BY TONY GUERRERO
Discover the heart and soul of Latin flavors as Las Hefas Latin Cuisine welcomes downtown Hays through its doors.
Israel Luna, general manager of Las Hefas, was born in Mexico and relocated to Kansas at the age of 13 in 2003.
Luna has been involved in the restaurant industry since his high school years, starting with a position at McDonald’s. He dedicated roughly four years to working at Jaliscos before working at Gella’s Diner and LB Brewing for 10 years.
Even while pursuing studies in political science and working in the school district, Luna consistently held positions in restaurants, valuing the additional experience and connections he built over the years.
“There were a lot of hurdles we had to jump through for this, and I knew that the relationships I made here in town were going to make it easier,” Luna said. “I have met so many people that I know if we had a restaurant, they would at least give it a try and come to support it.”
Attending Fort Hays State University, Luna said the most significant lesson he learned was networking, referring to it as his secondary job.
“I always made sure people had a good experience and they knew who I was. I made a lot of connections that I hope will give us a little edge once we open our doors here.” Luna said, describing his work ethic during his time at Gella’s.
Las Hefas Latin Cuisine, 224 W. 11th St., is expected to be open in early to mid-November.
Luna hopes to stand out in the Hays community with his crisp ingredients and traditional style of cooking.
“We're taking a more homestyle approach to cooking Mexican food with my mom's recipes. I think what restaurants here in town lack is the authenticity of what Mexican food is,” he said.
To ensure their freshness, certain dishes such as tamales, pasola and birria will be exclusively available on weekends. Additionally, weekend specials will showcase diverse courses originating from regions beyond Mexico.
“The name of our restaurant is Las Hafas Latin Cuisine because we're also incorporating other dishes from Latin America. We’ll have a couple of dishes from Central America and a couple of dishes from South America,” Luna said.
Luna highlights that the tortillas offered at Las Hefas should be the first choice for customers to experience.
“I think once people try those fresh tortillas, it will almost elevate their standard of what they're looking for,” he said.
Other menu items that Las Heffas will offer are enchiladas, pupusas, fajitas and sopes.
Luna noted that during his time at FHSU, many students expressed an interest in pursuing opportunities in eastern Kansas. However, personally, he never entertained the same idea.
“I think a lot of times rural communities in western Kansas are very affected when people are not willing to start small businesses there,” Luna said. “I'm happy to be here and be able to create a good product for the people of Hays, and hopefully they're willing to give us a chance.”
Luna acknowledges building owner Marvin Rack, Matt Grezeszak from Old Glory Rehab and Restoration, Edgar Gonzoles as well as various family members.
“The reason why we call it Las Hefas is because of my mom, my sister and my wife. They are the people that have made me into the person I am now. Through good and bad experiences, those three ladies are the foundation of who I am,” he said.
Luna specifically credits his mother, who will play a prominent role in the kitchen area for establishing his restaurant.
“Growing up, she was my main role model. I mean, the respect I have for her is everything,” Luna said.
Within Latin American culture, children growing up often refer to their mothers as "La Jefa," a term that translates to "the boss."
Las Hefas will be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays, and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
You can follow Las Hefas Latin Cuisine on Facebook.