Longtime valley resident Daniel Alfredo Rios, 87, passed away at the Homelake Veterans Home on Feb. 17, 2022. He was born on Feb. 15, 1935, in Morenci, Ariz., to Camilo and Concepcion (Haro) Rios.
Camilio was a Presbyterian, and later a Baptist, Minister. Camilio was also a homeopathic doctor, a miner, a taxicab driver, and a world-class tortilla maker who had immigrated from Mexico at the age of 25.
Concepcion was born in Bisbee, Ariz., and was a world-class cook and later a Sunday School teacher. Besides raising Daniel, his brother David and two sisters Clementina and Helen, she helped Camilo man several church postings in Arizona and Colorado and then later as they built several independent churches in Texas. They would buy or build small churches, develop a flock of parishioners, then give the church to the parishioners.
In the meantime, Camilo, Concepcion, and the children developed a brand of tortilla, Mrs. Rios Tortillas. The brand was purchased eventually by outside investors who still make Mrs. Rios Tortillas in Texas for both regional and international sales.
The family grew up on the sides of one of the largest copper open-pit mines in the world and their house would constantly be moved by the mining company back from the edge of the mine as the mine expanded. The children grew up playing around the edges of a few different mining operations and as a result each child was born in a completely different mining town in the mountains of Arizona.
The family had to raise goats because Daniel was allergic to cow milk and he and his brother David herded the goats up and down the mountain sides and goat products completely replaced any cow products for the whole family. The whole family in the end absolutely hated anything goat. If Daniel walked into a restaurant or something and caught a whiff of anything goat he would turn around and walk out, there was no way he was eating at any establishment that served goat products.
The family eventually moved to San Angelo, Texas, where they would firmly establish the Mrs. Rios Tortilla brand. It was in high school in San Angelo that Daniel would meet Gloria Valadez and started a romance that lasted right up until the day Daniel passed with Gloria at his side.
After graduation, he honorably served his country in the United States Navy, joining with his high school buddy Henry “Rata” Alonzo. They both were qualified signalmen and on occasion their respective ships would be assigned to the same task force. Daniel and Rata spent many a late night on watch on the Bridge passing the night BS’ing ship to ship in morse code with signal lights or signal flags. Daniel was so proud of his service that the US Navy was without a doubt his favorite topic of discussion.
The assignment of the USS Rowan, the middle name he gave his youngest son by the way, was to hunt for Chinese submarines in the Formosa Straight between China and Taiwan. The US destroyer was in a constant state of alert as Taiwan had only recently declared independence from China and the ships assigned to the Formosa Straight Patrol were there to slow down the expected Chinese invasion of Taiwan until other forces could be moved into the Straight to help protect the Taiwanese. Congress had even considered giving that tour of duty its own campaign ribbon because of the constant state of battle readiness the sailors had to maintain. At that time it was probably one of the most dangerous waterways to navigate on the planet!
About halfway through his tour of duty, he went back to San Angelo, Texas, to marry Gloria Valadez on Aug. 4, 1956, three days after Gloria turned 21. Daniel moved Gloria to Southern California where she lived with her relatives whenever Daniel was out to sea. It was in Southern California that they had their first child, Daniel Jr., who was born for the grand total cost of $9 thanks to the Navy.
When Daniel was discharged, he and Gloria went back to Texas, packed all their belongings into a small trailer house and their car and with a 9-month-old Danny Jr. they headed for Colorado. Daniel’s father had been assigned to the Presbyterian Church in San Pablo, Colo., near San Luis. Daniel and his father had come up with a plan to start a tortilla factory in Alamosa and everybody would pitch in to help make tortillas and Daniel could attend Adams State College to get his teaching degrees in Spanish and history.
Daniel eventually got his degree and then did his student teaching at Centauri High in La Jara. Daniel really enjoyed teaching but the tortilla business and the little café they had put on the end of the tortilla factory was really starting to take off. At that point though, they had no idea the monster they had created. It was not long after the move to Alamosa from Texas that Daniel met Chuck (Tusa) Lucero who became Daniel’s best friend right up until Tusa passed.
From 10th and Ross in Alamosa, they moved the restaurant part of the operation to the Plaza Shopping Center next to the Adam State College campus. It did not take them too many years to outgrow the plaza shopping center even after adding on adjoining units in the shopping center. Daniel then moved the restaurant to 6th street into a furniture warehouse Daniel had converted into a restaurant.
At that point, the Rios family began to farm grain and alfalfa, run a cattle herd, run a sheep farm, all while exporting 100’s of railroad cars a year of San Luis Valley barley to breweries in Mexico. It was because of the agriculture that Daniel met his other two best running buddies, John Divine of Center and Dave Marsh of Mosca by way of Indiana and Kansas.
Also, at this time he met a young man named Juan de Lara, who for all practical purposes became an adopted son. Juan still works at Dos Rios and is helping Mike and Lucas Rios continue the legacy Dan and Gloria Rios had built. The greed of a couple of Daniel’s business partners however ruined it for everybody. One took the money that should have been paying barley and potato farmers and left a lot of people hurting. Daniel paid back every one of those farmers just about everything they were owed and had to shut down all the agricultural operations in the process. In the meantime, the restaurant on 6th Street in Alamosa had been sold and the original Mrs. Rios name was no longer in Colorado.
So, back Daniel went into the restaurant business when he was offered a chance to take over the Farmer’s Buffet in Center, Colo., when the lady who owned it had died suddenly and her family was trying to figure out how to make money out of the place without having to do any of the work. Daniel and Gloria didn’t have the greatest deal there at the Farmer’s Buffet, but they managed to make a living as they were building an almost whole new clientele than they had while in Alamosa.
After several busy years in Center Bill Ellithorpe of Center offered to sell Daniel and Gloria what had once been the Red Hat Trading Post north of Monte Vista, Colo. Daniel and Gloria remodeled the building and Dos Rios was born. There they were able to draw both the customers from Center and Alamosa to establish a very successful business now being run by Daniel’s son Michael and grandson Lucas.
Daniel’s mother was the source of most of the wonderful recipes used at all these various locations. Daniel, however, took these recipes and improved on every one of them. If he found some interesting item out on a road trip or something in some little Mexican restaurant when he returned home, he would first duplicate what he had tried and then he would improve on it.
At least half of the Mexican restaurants in the San Luis Valley have owners or managers that at one time or other had worked for Daniel and would then eventually decide that they could do it better. Daniel along with the help of Gloria and the rest of the family had become the single-best driving force in raising the quality of the Mexican food across the entire San Luis Valley. He was absolutely one of a kind and will be greatly missed!
Daniel is survived by his wife Gloria Rios, his sons, Mike Rios and Danny Rios, his grandchildren Lucas Rios and Sianna Morgan, his brother David (Martha, Gloria’s younger sister) Rios, his nieces Kathy Rios and Edna Rios, and great-grandsons Jaxon James Dean Morgan and Ryker Black Rios, as well as other extended family and friends.
He was preceded in death by his parents, his son Patrick Rowan Rios and his sisters Helen Valenzuela and Clementina Minor.
Cremation was selected and a memorial service will be held at a later date. To express condolences to the family, please visit www.rogersfunerals.com
Rogers Family Mortuary in Monte Vista is overseeing the arrangements.