Walk through the doors of El Parador Restaurant and you felt like you had escaped the desert.

Enormous rubber trees, hanging plants and sunny skylights gave the dining room at 2744 E. Broadway the feel of a sun-splashed Mexican beach.

The picture was complete when you sipped a house margarita during happy hour and nibbled on treats from El Parador's generous Mexican buffet.

That all came to an end on Thursday when the 40-year-old family-owned restaurant announced it was closing.

In a news release posted on Facebook just after 2 p.m., owner Loretta Jacob Carlson thanked longtime customers and employees alike for sticking with her family through the years.

"The marvelous thing is we have these great memories," Carlson added in a rushed phone interview an hour after announcing the closure. "It's time for us to move on and get out of full service and find something else to do, and care for our folks and be on our way."

happy-hour spot

Carlson, 62, ran El Parador with her brothers Donald and Daniel Jacob. The siblings were carrying on the legacy of their father, John Jacob, who launched his restaurant career on Miracle Mile in 1946 with Club 21, according to Carlson's news release.

El Parador had been a popular happy-hour destination throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, with patrons attracted to the restaurant's ample free buffets.

A couple of years ago, the family branched out and began bottling the elder Jacob's salsa and sold it in area stores to diversify their income. But the effort was not enough to save the family from a tough economy that led them in early 2012 to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for El Parador.

The restaurant emerged from bankruptcy in January.

Carlson said the restaurant served its last diners Saturday with the thought that it would close for remodeling. The family decided on Thursday to make the closure permanent, she said.

"We've been here 40 years, so it's time to move on," she said. "Hopefully in the next couple, three weeks we will be announcing our wonderful new adventures that are on our doorstep."

She would not elaborate except to say that those won't take place in the restaurant's building, which the family owns.

couple "Out in the cold"

Betty and Dave Duffy were stunned to hear about the sudden closure because their 50th anniversary party was scheduled for Aug. 3 at El Parador.

After hearing that the closure news was posted online, Betty Duffy called the phone number listed on the $200 deposit receipt she has from the restaurant, and it was disconnected Thursday. "So I'm out in the cold," she said.

Planning for the party started in December or January, and they picked El Parador because it had been in business for so many years. They've already paid for the invitations, stamps, centerpieces and decorations, "and I've got 55 RSVPs in hand," Duffy added.

The party was to be held 50 years to the day after their wedding, "so I don't want some other day. I'm not sure if we'll even have a party now. Right now I'm not a very trusting person," she said. "We're sick over it."

Carlson couldn't be reached by phone or Facebook for a response later Thursday to the Duffys' concerns, and the restaurant said nothing in its Facebook posting about whether deposits will be returned to customers. The family's online posting did thank customers for holding their special events at the restaurant over the years.

Business Editor Norma Coile contributed to this report. Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@azstarnet.com or 573-4642.