My heart twisted Wednesday night, when I read in the El Paso Times that the city’s legendary H&H Car Wash and Coffee Shop was set to close the next day. Maynard Haddad, 87, ran the business for nearly 63 years; asked by TV station KFOX why he’s closing up shop, he said simply, “It’s time,” noting that he plans to spend more time with his family.
I was crestfallen to learn of the closure of the El Paso landmark, one where you could get your dusty pickup washed while munching on a taco or digging into a picadillo omelet breakfast plate. The spicy West Texas and Mexican specialties were as invigorating and sweat-inducing as they were comforting to locals and road trippers. I’ve been fond of H&H since my first visit in 2007. I stopped by at the behest of my El Pasoan in-laws, who insisted that if I liked tacos and Mexican food, I’d enjoy H&H. They were right. I returned the next morning for another meal and to watch cars get a nice cleaning. It was mesmerizing to sit in a window-facing diner booth, sip a cup of coffee, and watch Haddad’s crew hose down vehicles in the parking lot. I felt a sense of childlike wonder. An employee with a broom swept away the Chihuahuan Desert sand from the restaurant’s sidewalk.
I slid into a booth again in 2009 after my wife’s grandfather’s funeral. In 2015, I visited for that year’s Texas Monthly taco feature. My breakfast companions and I noshed on breakfast taco platters—my favorite was the snappy-on-the-outside, pillowy-on-the-inside potato and egg taco—and were treated to Haddad’s trademark prickly attitude amid the local sports memorabilia, framed newspaper and magazine clippings, and colorful Formica counters. While Haddad communicated in English, most business was conducted in Spanish, the native language of many H&H employees and customers.
Haddad, whose Syrian immigrant father opened the business in 1958, has an unabashed surliness softened by charm. Last year, during the first episode of Hulu’s Taste the Nation With Padma Lakshmi, the host asked him about his political views. Of then-president Trump, Haddad said, “He’s full of s—, but I like him.” How, Lakshmi asked, could he support Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric while also supporting his Mexican employees, many of whom commuted across the border from Ciudad Juárez into El Paso to work at H&H? Haddad shrugged it off. For me, his comments rankled, but it was clear that Haddad is as colorful and unusual as his business.
H&H struggled during the pandemic. Haddad closed the car wash more than a year ago while trying to keep his restaurant open. “We held it open as long as we could, loyalty to our employees, but you look at it and it’s time,” Haddad told KTSM. “We’ve done everything there is to do, had a great run, all kinds of great people.” He made a similar statement to the El Paso Times, saying, “God’s been good to me,” and noting how much he’ll miss sitting in his favorite white rocking chair in front of the entrance. On Thursday, a small crowd of regulars lined up outside the shop for one last coffee or taco.
I was in El Paso from July 10 to 12. Unfortunately, I didn’t visit H&H while I was in town. I wish I had. If I had known Haddad was going to shutter his shop, I would have stopped in for a plate of the Monday special—hamburger steak with chile con queso—and a breakfast taco. I might’ve joked around with Haddad a little, playfully ribbing him for something or other. I also would have thanked him for his service to the community through his restaurant.