The El Camino restaurant’s iconic 1960s sign is getting a facelift, and owner Wanita Jones hopes its nostalgic neon will soon be glowing brightly for her customers to enjoy.
“The sign was horrible. I knew it needed to be fixed,” Jones said. “They kept trying to get me to go with LED lights, and I was like – no, we are going with neon.”
Jones started on the ground floor in 1991 and worked her way up to managing the popular local eatery where people driving through on I-25 have stopped for years to enjoy soup and burritos which comprise a tiny portion of the menu.
In 2015, Jones started leasing the El Camino and transitioned from management to ownership. Jones bought the restaurant last October. While she’s been careful about changes, she knew her sign needed updating.
“We have people from everywhere coming here. They have to take a picture right, and there have been thousands of them. I thought it would be really cool to restore it. We’ve had people call and say they would be flying over Socorro and filming and if it would be okay if the sign was in it,” Jones said.
The sign has what appears to be planets or perhaps stars that are aligning and framed by the two-story tall, peaked towers on each side. Readers are free to debate if this was a nod to the nuclear age or the planets pointing to some of the best eating around.
A search on Google will show several El Caminos around the country, but none have a sign like the one in Socorro or a determined owner like Jones, who picked up the reins just in time for Covid to hit.
With necessity being the mother of innovation, Jones built an outside patio that now has future possibilities for entertainment.
“We always take our customers into consideration when we make a change to something,” Jones “Our customers are the reason I love coming to work because we have a great flavor of people coming in here.”
Like her relationships with her customers, Jones constructed an affection for the El Camino’s sign, and she realizes its importance to her restaurant.
“Our sign is the first thing people see when they pass by. Everyone knows this place by that sign. It’s not the building but our sign that people recognize and tell other people about,” Jones said. “That’s why it is so important to get it restored.”
Albuquerque’s Zeon Signs won the bid to restore the sign, and Phil Salas, who was working on it last week, said its neon is expected to begin this week. So, it won’t be long before readers can drive past the El Camino on California Street and bask in the glow of a 60-plus-year tradition enjoyed by Socorro residents.
You’ll be welcome to head inside for some down-home friendly service and great food.