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Los Hermanos rises from ashes to remain Utah County staple

By Sarah Harris daily Herald - | May 19, 2019
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The nacho supreme is pictured Thursday, March 28, 2019, at Los Hermanos in Lindon. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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A diablo verde is pictured Thursday, March 28, 2019, at Los Hermanos in Lindon. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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A side dish that accompanies the Steak and Shrimp Fajitas is pictured Thursday, March 28, 2019, at Los Hermanos in Lindon. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Tortillas are pictured Thursday, March 28, 2019, at Los Hermanos in Lindon. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Steak and Shrimp Fajitas are pictured Thursday, March 28, 2019, at Los Hermanos in Lindon. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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The Nacho Supreme is pictured Thursday, March 28, 2019, at Los Hermanos in Lindon. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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A Diablo Verde is pictured Thursday, March 28, 2019, at Los Hermanos in Lindon. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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A Cherry Empanada is pictured Thursday, March 28, 2019, at Los Hermanos in Lindon. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Steak and Shrimp Fajitas are pictured Thursday, March 28, 2019, at Los Hermanos in Lindon. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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A side dish that accompanies the Steak and Shrimp Fajitas is pictured Thursday, March 28, 2019, at Los Hermanos in Lindon. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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A Cherry Empanada is pictured Thursday, March 28, 2019, at Los Hermanos in Lindon. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Los Hermanos' new location at University Place in Orem is pictured at the soft opening on Friday, April 19, 2019.

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Los Hermanos' new location at University Place in Orem is pictured at the soft opening on Friday, April 19, 2019.

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Restaurant owner Lisa Witham stands at the front doors of Los Hermanos' new location at University Place in Orem at the soft opening on Friday, April 19, 2019.

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Los Hermanos' new location at University Place in Orem is pictured at the soft opening on Friday, April 19, 2019.

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Los Hermanos' new location at University Place in Orem is pictured at the soft opening on Friday, April 19, 2019.

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Los Hermanos' new location at University Place in Orem is pictured at the soft opening on Friday, April 19, 2019.

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Los Hermanos' new location at University Place in Orem is pictured at the soft opening on Friday, April 19, 2019.

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Los Hermanos' new location at University Place in Orem is pictured at the soft opening on Friday, April 19, 2019.

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Los Hermanos' new location at University Place in Orem is pictured at the soft opening on Friday, April 19, 2019.

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Los Hermanos' new location at University Place in Orem is pictured at the soft opening on Friday, April 19, 2019.

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Los Hermanos' new location at University Place in Orem is pictured at the soft opening on Friday, April 19, 2019.

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Los Hermanos' new location at University Place in Orem is pictured at the soft opening on Friday, April 19, 2019.

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Los Hermanos' new location at University Place in Orem is pictured at the soft opening on Friday, April 19, 2019.

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Los Hermanos' new location at University Place in Orem is pictured at the soft opening on Friday, April 19, 2019.

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The Los Hermanos restaurant is pictured on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, in Provo. The Feb. 11 fire at the restaurant was ruled to be accidental.

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The entrance to Los Hermanos is pictured on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, in Provo.

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The backdoor to Los Hermanos is pictured on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, in Provo.

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The Los Hermanos restaurant is pictured on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, in Provo.

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Fire crews work to extinguish a fire at the Los Hermanos restaurant in downtown Provo on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.

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Fire crews work to extinguish a fire at the Los Hermanos restaurant in downtown Provo on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.

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Fire crews work to extinguish a fire at the Los Hermanos restaurant in downtown Provo on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.

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Fire crews work to extinguish a fire at the Los Hermanos restaurant in downtown Provo on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.

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Firefighters assess the scene of a fire in downtown Provo on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.

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A fire burns at the location of the Provo Los Hermanos restaurant on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.

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A fire burns in downtown Provo in the building that houses the Los Hermanos restaurant on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.

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A fire burns in downtown Provo in the building that houses the Los Hermanos restaurant on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.

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Photos show the interior of the Los Hermanos restaurant at 71 E. Center St. in Provo the day after a fire gutted the building on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. 

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Photos show the interior of the Los Hermanos restaurant at 71 E. Center St. in Provo after a fire gutted the building on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. 

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Photos show the interior of the Los Hermanos restaurant at 71 E. Center St. in Provo the day after a fire gutted the building on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. 

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Photos show the interior of the Los Hermanos restaurant at 71 E. Center St. in Provo the day after a fire gutted the building on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. 

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Photos show the interior of the Los Hermanos restaurant at 71 E. Center St. in Provo the day after a fire gutted the building on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. 

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Photos show the interior of the Los Hermanos restaurant at 71 E. Center St. in Provo the day after a fire gutted the building on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. 

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Photos show the interior of the Los Hermanos restaurant at 71 E. Center St. in Provo the day after a fire gutted the building on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. 

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Photos show the interior of the Los Hermanos restaurant at 71 E. Center St. in Provo the day after a fire gutted the building on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. 

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Photos show the exterior of the Los Hermanos restaurant at 71 E. Center St. in Provo the day after a fire gutted the building on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. 

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Los Hermanos is pictured on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, in Provo. On Monday, a fire started in the basement of the building and enveloped the restaurant.

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Icicles hang from Los Hermanos on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, in Provo.

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Los Hermanos is pictured on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, in Provo.

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Los Hermanos is pictured on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, in Provo.

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Caution tape is pictured on the sidewalk near Los Hermanos, which was severely damaged by a fire on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, in Provo.

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The damaged front of Los Hermanos is pictured on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, in Provo.

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A crew cleans debris from the Los Hermanos restaurant Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, in downtown Provo. A fire began in the Mexican restaurant's basement the night before and the building will likely be considered a total loss, according to Dean York with the Provo Fire Department. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Owners Lisa and Craig Witham stand in front of a quilt their children made out of Los Hermanos T-shirts. The Withams have been able to mostly restore the quilt following the fire at their Provo restaurant, and it now hangs in the front of their new Orem store.

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Chalk art created by the Withams' second oldest daughter, Rachel, on Los Hermanos' 30th anniversary on Aug. 4, 2018, at The Shops at Riverwoods in Provo.

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Members of the Witham family work at Los Hermanos in Provo.

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Members of the Witham family work at Los Hermanos in Provo.

The Witham family had just sat down to eat dinner on Feb. 11 when the phone rang.

Before they could take a bite, they were informed their Provo restaurant, Los Hermanos, was on fire.

“We all jumped up from the table and didn’t eat the dinner and jumped in our van and drove as fast as we could to downtown Provo,” owner Lisa Witham said in an email. “The restaurant had smoke pouring out of every door, window and crack, and fire trucks surrounding it.”

The family stood on the streets of downtown Provo, watching the fire burn for several hours.

“We cried, we shook, we were in shock and devastated,” Witham said. “(We) couldn’t believe that our 30-plus years of business was being burned to the ground.”

They gathered behind the building around 1 a.m. the next morning crying and praying, determined to do whatever it took to get Los Hermanos up and running again.

“Not only for our family, but for our wonderful and loyal and dedicated employees who have worked for us for decades and our wonderful customers,” Witham said.

Just over two months later, the Utah County staple has reopened its doors from a new location at University Place in Orem.

“We’re so happy, so excited, and we’ve had so many people help us and we believe miracles and miracles, just doing this, and our family’s come together,” Witham said through tears at the restaurant’s soft opening. “We just don’t believe in quitting.”

Provo beginnings

Owners Craig and Lisa Witham, both California natives, met as theater students in a production of “Our Town” at Brigham Young University. By the time Craig Witham was about to start a graduate program, they had a few children and were looking for “a little house to buy,” according to Lisa Witham.

“The guy that owned the house said to us, ‘Do you want to buy a restaurant too?’ And we said, ‘What restaurant?’ It was Los Hermanos,” Lisa Witham said. “It was a tiny little operation on Center Street and it was our favorite restaurant.”

The Withams charged up all of their credit cards and borrowed from a relative to buy the Provo restaurant.

“We absolutely knew that we could do something wonderful with Los Hermanos,” Lisa Witham said.

Craig Witham developed all of Los Hermanos’ signature Mexican dishes, including the fajitas, specialty drinks, fried ice cream, and street market and seafood items, according to Lisa Witham.

“He is a true creative and also loves to eat,” Lisa Witham said. “We never change our chips and salsa or our core menu items. We feel that they do not belong to us, they belong to our customers, and always try to be consistent with those.”

Utah County expansion

Lisa Witham worked as a sales manager at Sears in Provo to put her husband through school and support her family for the first four years they owned Los Hermanos. They put all of the money they earned at Los Hermanos back into the restaurant and expanded into several more buildings on the corner of Center Street and University Avenue.

“We absolutely love Provo and Utah County and we had always thought we would go back to California, but we knew this was a wonderful place to raise a family and we never left,” Lisa Witham said.

About three years after they started the Provo location, the Withams came upon an opportunity to convert a 150-year-old Lindon farmhouse into a second Los Hermanos restaurant.

“It was an actual working farm with corn and chicken and cows and a barn and a farm family when we bought it,” Lisa Witham said. “It was a very quick success and we have lots of loyal customers in Lindon.”

The Withams’ family grew along with the restaurants, and they now have 18 “one-of-a-kind” children, nine biological and nine adopted.

“Because of Los Hermanos, we have been able to support and raise these children,” Lisa Witham said.

Up in flames

About 30 years later, less than two hours after Los Hermanos’ office manager had locked up the Provo restaurant for the day on Feb. 11, the building was engulfed in flames.

“The fire marshal said it was a complete freak accident and that one million stars had to line up in order for this to happen,” Lisa Witham said.

The restaurant had been closed for a few days while a contractor installed new hardwood floors, which no one ever got to walk on.

“We are so grateful that no one was hurt,” Lisa Witham said. “Had the restaurant been open, we would have had our full staff on and be in the middle of a dinner rush.”

Five large trucks poured water on the top of the building to stop the fire, leaving the basement flooded with 6 1/2 feet of water.

“Our entire dish room and half of the kitchen fell into the basement,” Lisa Witham said. “The beautiful offices above us received severe damage and the roof was totally gone.”

Though the fire destroyed most of what was in the Provo store, the Withams were able to restore an old piano, a buffalo head decoration, an antique cash register and some stained glass, which are now on display at the new Orem restaurant.

“While it is extremely difficult for any of us to go back to the fire scene or even drive by our old store, as we get a pit in our stomach and heart, we have a wonderful opportunity in front of us that has come together quickly,” Lisa Witham said.

Moving forward

The Witham family has been “working tirelessly” on Los Hermanos’ new Orem location since the fire, according to Lisa Witham.

“The University Place has been so good to us and we are excited about this new chapter for a Los Hermanos,” Lisa Witham said. “In this beautiful building, we think we will be able to expand our catering, and we have lots more places for a wonderful gathering for families and businesses.”

Lisa Witham said she thinks customers will feel at home in the Orem restaurant, which features past favorites from Los Hermanos’ original store, including a recreation of the garden room and the “early West feeling and vibe” of both of their restaurants in one of the large dining rooms at the new location.

“We are excited to be a part of this vibrant community here at the University Place and can’t wait to see our customers again, eating bowls of chips and salsa and all of their other favorites,” Lisa Witham said.

LOS HERMANOS

Where: 575 E. University Parkway, Orem; 395 N. State St., Lindon

Hours: Monday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., closed Sundays.

Prices: $3.99-$19.99

Info: loshermanosutah.com

Audrey Jacobson, Mapleton

“I was working at Los Hermanos as a server and was dating another server that worked there. One night after the restaurant was closed and we were cleaning up, I went to the walk-in freezer to restock ice cream, and when I walk in there were flowers and candles all set up and in walked my boyfriend and he proposed to me in the freezer. Of course I said yes and we have been married for almost 20 years and have six kids and we love to go eat there together as a family.”

Katie Black, Provo

“In 1996 after watching the USA gymnastics team have a dramatic win at the Olympics, my sisters and I went to Los Hermanos to celebrate with nachos and Brisa to drink of course. It was the best night of my 10-year-old life.”

Megan Keller, Orem

“My mother was invited by the owners to occupy tables and make the new establishment look busy in the mid-1980s with her single parent group. They ordered $1 guacamole dip and chips. She was hooked and brought us five kids to Los Hermanos for every birthday meal when going out to eat was still a special treat. We still celebrate special occasions at Los Hermanos. Most recently, we celebrated my sister Amelia Powers becoming the first female elected into a Utah County office in January. To us, Los Hermanos doesn’t just mean ‘The Brothers,’ it means celebrating with family.”

Genelle Pugmire, Orem

“Got caught holding hands with my future husband by his office co-workers, got courted there and after we were married, we had our first fight there. Many years of eating burritos, nachos, tamales, fajitas and their many specialty drinks. Most of all chips and guacamole.”

Darnell Dickson, Orem

“I worked at the Provo Los Hermanos as a waiter when I was attending BYU. Craig Witham had just purchased the restaurant. He was working on a variety of nonalcoholic blended drinks. I named the ‘Diablo Rojo,’ which is my claim to fame.”

Andy Payne, Lehi

“I was a server there for a couple years. My future wife came in on a date and left her number. Fourteen years and three kids later, still the best tip I ever received.”

Kristen Turner, Saratoga Springs

“My friends and I used to go there back when it was across the street in the corner site. They had a singer named Julio that had the most incredible voice that would sing at the tables with his guitar. He got to know us by name because we would go almost every weekend. We had so many great laughs sitting in the garden room, eating chips and salsa, and listening to Julio sing ‘Eres Tú.’ It was such a fun memory.

“Fast forward 25 years and one of those friends is now my husband and we are celebrating my daughter’s graduation in their current location with her two … cousins and they all just graduated from high school. We are all in a room with them dancing to the music and singing, having the best family time.

“Los Hermanos has been a staple in our family for years and will always (have) a special place in our hearts.”

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