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DALLAS Monday marked the ending of an era as Herrera's Cafe, a Maple Avenue mainstay, shuts its doors.

The owners of Herrera's, which has operated a restaurant on Maple since 1971, said they were pushed out by high real estate prices in the area.

'It's a landmark, I know,' said Nora Ontiveros, a member of the small family-owned chain. 'But we can't make it, so we're just going to move on. We're just a mom-and-pop restaurant.'

She said they couldn't come to an agreement on a lease at their present location. The family had originally hoped to move into a new restaurant building that's under construction across the street, but they couldn't come to an agreement for that location, either.

Herhusband is the grandson of the Amelia Herrera, who founded the popular Tex-Mex restaurant at its first Maple Avenue location in 1971. Back then, the restaurant only had nine tables, and customers lined up with coolers of beer as they waited to get inside.

The original Maple Avenue location was featured in a 1984 edition of National Geographic. A huge painting of that iconic National Geographic photo adorns the restaurant entrance.

'They made Herrera's what it is today,' Ontiveros said of her in-laws. 'They always instilled in my husband that as long as you keep the food consistent, and the customers... you know, they're like family, all our customers.'

She's been working at the restaurant since 1976, when her now-deceased mother-in-law asked her to come in.

'I've been helping ever since,' she said. 'I never really thought this day would come that we leave here.'

Ontiveros says they've been packed with customers, some coming from as far away as Colorado, since word got out the restaurant was shutting its doors.

The dining room was bustling with regular Monday business as they came in to enjoy one last meal. One of them was Jack Bronstad. He's been coming from the start, and recalls waiting outside the original restaurant (with his cooler of beer) to get in.

'I can't believe it,' he said. 'It's a sad day. It's the best food around. There's no question about that.'

Bronstad has been eating at Herrera's every Monday for as long as he can remember. His standard order: beef enchiladas.

He joked Monday that he would have to go to the Ontiveros' house for his enchiladas.

'All I have to do is to get Nora to agree to that,' he said.

Ontervos joked that she might just take him up on that.

'Jack has been our customer forever,' she said. 'He's the sweetest man. He's here every Monday. Every Monday rain, shine, bad weather, ice he's here on Monday.'

Ontiveros promises that Herrera's will be back -- perhaps not on Maple, but somewhere nearby.

'It's not 'goodbye,'' she said. 'It's 'See you later.''

Other family members own and operate other Herrera's locations at Mockingbird Station, near Dallas Love Field, and one in Denton.

E-mail teiserer@wfaa.com

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