Las Margaritas owner Terry Morse, right, says higher wage, sick pay and rent costs, as well as new competition, led to the decision to close the restaurant after 38 years. With her is manager David Wetstein, who she jokes “came with the building.”

Las Margaritas Mexican Restaurant on North Oracle Road will close on Nov. 25, ending a family legacy of 65 years in the restaurant business, born in a small, unassuming dining room in central Tucson.

“Everybody who walks in that door, the only thing they say is, ‘It’s so sad.’ ‘I was engaged here.’ ‘I had my wedding reception, my anniversary here,’” Las Margaritas owner Terry Morse said Monday, recounting anecdotes from loyal customers once they learned that the 38-year-old restaurant will close. “It’s real sad. I don’t even want to work these next few weeks.”

Morse said several factors played into her decision to close, from higher minimum-wage costs and new mandatory sick pay requirements to the increase in competition from Mexican restaurants moving near her at 6011 N. Oracle Road, near West Rudasill Road.

She also was facing a steep rent hike — $2,000 a month, bringing her monthly rate to $22,000 — once her lease expired on Dec. 1.

“It’s real sad. I don’t even want to work these next few weeks,” says owner Terry Morse, recounting how customers keep telling her of events they celebrated at the restaurant.

“If I sold fine wines, but that’s a lot of tacos,” Morse said of the financial strain the increase would have added. “I would have had to raise my prices. I don’t know, it’s not fun anymore.”

Las Margaritas employs 38 workers full- and part-time including manager David Wetstein, who Morse joked “came with the building.” Wetstein has worked alongside Morse since her parents opened the restaurant.

Customers waited outside Molina’s Midway restaurant on one of its final days last year. The family-owned restaurant was opened in 1953 by Elias and Louisa Molina.

The closure comes nearly a year after Morse sold the Grant Road building that housed Las Margaritas’ 30-year-old sister restaurant, and 18 months after her family closed their flagship Molina’s Midway Mexican Food restaurant on North Belvedere Avenue. Morse’s grandparents, Louisa and Elias Molina, opened Molina’s Midway in 1953, following in Elias’ brother Gilbert’s restaurant footsteps.

Gilbert Molina in the 1940s opened the family’s first restaurant, Casa Molina, which has three locations today. A spinoff Mexican restaurant, El Molinito, has four Tucson locations, and all are owned and operated by three generations of Gilbert Molina’s descendants, including his son, Gilbert Jr.

Gilbert Molina started a dynasty that has descendants running the Casa Molina and El Molinito restaurants.

None of those businesses will be impacted by Las Margaritas closing, a Casa Molina restaurant official said.

Morse said Las Margaritas will be open regular hours through Nov. 25. It will close on Thanksgiving Day, which usually would have been the day that Las Margaritas fills up with Molina family and friends, as many as 60, for the annual family Thanksgiving dinner.

Before Molina’s Midway closed, the dinner had been held there; with its closing, the dinner last year was moved to Las Margaritas on Grant.

This year, with the other restaurants long gone, Morse had planned to host the dinner at the Oracle Road restaurant.

“It’s the end of the legacy. The whole family, we spend Thanksgiving at one of the restaurants. This year we’ll each be doing it at home,” Morse said. “It’s kind of bittersweet.”

Daniel Reyes, a line cook at Las Margaritas, decides his cheese enchilada plate is ready to go.

Restaurants that have closed in 2018:

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch

Cathalena has covered music for the Star for the past 20 years. She's a graduate of Arizona State University has worked at Sedona Red Rock News, Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, New York; and USA Today.