She said she found that in David and Araseli Murillo, Lorenzo Cardenaz & Bertha Rodriguez: owners of Sam’s Leon Mexican Foods.
“The other people (who wanted to buy), I knew them, but I wasn’t confident in what I wanted them to do with the business; I wanted to keep the food the same, I wanted them to keep my employees,” Orduna-Estrada said. “The other people, I wasn’t comfortable with them. It was like handing someone your child.”
Howard’s opened in the early 50s by Dolores Wright. Orduna-Estrada said her mother started the restaurant because she didn’t like how other restaurants were making their beans.
“We started it in the basement of a house on 24th street. We moved to 26th and O after being on 24th street, and was there from 1960 to 1965,” she said.
The restaurant then moved to 24th and Q, where it remained from 1965 to 1990. Since 1990, they’ve been at their current location on 13th street.
Orduna-Estrada took over the kitchen in 2008, which she said started to take a toll on her.
“There was probably about five or six other people that were trying to get me to sell because of my health, when I became aware that I needed a kidney transplant,” she said. “I knew I had to get out of the business, but I was worried about my employees.”
Before finding someone to take over, Orduna-Estrada said she didn’t know the fate of the restaurant.
“I just didn’t know how fast I needed everything done, I didn’t know the process of a transplant,” she said. “I didn’t know what was in the future for me.”
Orduna-Estrada had worked with David Murillo for about 10 years, and knew how the Murillos, Cardenaz & Rodriguez operated as business owners.
“We were in an agreement with everything, I didn’t want them to lose time with me closing and them opening, because that’s always harder for business to pick up the people that you lose in the process,” she said. “I closed here on a Friday, it was theirs on a Sunday.”
Araseli Murillo said the transition was “smooth.”
“We came in, we met with the employees as far as what our expectations were and how things were going to still continue as far as recipes, the food and how we were going to continue that,” Murillo said. “It’s been working out well, our customers seem happy.”
The Murillos wanted to make sure the menu stayed the same “out of respect,” so the old items haven’t changed, though new items have been added such as charro beans, steak quesadillas and tacos de barbacoa.
“Everything else is pretty much the same,” Murillo said. “We’re thinking of adding a few more items to the menu. We haven’t decided what.”
Orduna-Estrada said she understands that some recipes can never be replicated.
“You have the same recipe, but it’s always going to turn out just a little bit different,” she said. “It is very close, and the customers seem to like it. Some don’t, but it’s as close as we could get for the transition.”
Murillo said other changes have to do with hours.
“We’re gonna start opening on Sundays and Mondays — Sundays for breakfast, and Monday we’re going to be opening hopefully sometime in September,” she said.
One thing the Murillos, Cardenaz & Rodriguez wanted to keep was the family-oriented atmosphere.
“It’s still family-owned and I think (the customers) liked that part, because we’re all here, the four partners are all family members and then we have our kids, everybody helping out,” Murillo said. “The workers that did stay with us, they’ve been here for years and they’re like a family. Debbie comes around, so the customers really like to see that.”
Orduna-Estrada said a pro to owning a restaurant is the relationships she’s formed.
“You meet so many people, such a variety of people,” she said. “Through this, our family being in this business, I have so many friends, so many people who know who I am. They’re not customers, they’re friends and family.”
A con would be the fact that it took a toll on her.
“You’re married to it,” she said.
Murillo said she wants to continue keeping up with the legacy Howard’s has already established for over 50 years.
“We’re coming up with different ideas,” she said. “We still want it to be family-oriented, we want people who’ve been coming here for a long time who live in this area to continue to come back.
The restaurant has a great reputation in Omaha, something Murillo said she appreciates.
“I think what they’ve done with it is great. Making it so family-oriented and making everyone feel like family is what really made it successful,” she said. “We want to continue that and bring in more families to make this their home.”
Though Orduna-Estrada isn’t working at the restaurant, she still pops in to check on the new owners. She said a lot of stress has been lifted thanks to the Murillos.
“They’ve done a wonderful job,” she said. “I couldn’t have asked for anyone better.”