In case you haven’t heard, but of course you have, H&H Car Wash and Coffee Shop has closed after 63 years at the corner of Yandell and Ochoa.
But for a little while longer, Maynard Haddad is still spending his mornings there, nursing a big cigar in a wooden rocking chair in the bay, surrounded by a thousand things for sale and happily greeting old friends and customers who drop by.
And they do. But it won’t be for much longer, he says. Maybe three weeks.
His daughter, Julie, is holding down the café, but no food’s for sale, just a lot more things – tools, appliances and maybe the big menu on the wall offering pancakes for $5.25 and chile colorado for $7.99.
Haddad, 87, who’s known for his generosity and community spirit, as well as being crotchety, said it’s time to give it up and take it easy. But it’s not something he’s been mulling for a long time.
“I don’t plan ahead,” he said. “It’s just time.”
Last year, he sold the property to the nearby St. Clement’s Church, where for years, he bought the bacon for Sunday breakfasts between the services before COVID-19 came along and ended those cherished communal gatherings.
St. Clement’s expects to need the H&H property if or when the Texas Department of Transportation goes ahead with its Interstate 10 widening plan that would claim the church’s nearby gymnasium along with many other properties on the other side of Yandell Street.
The opportunity came along at the right time for the church and Haddad.
Grateful for the long run, he seems only to regret one thing – not having raised the price years ago for the cheapest, detailed car and truck wash by hand in El Paso.
In the café, politicians, musicians, journalists and various colorful personalities from across the country could sometimes be spotted digging into their favorite dish alongside El Pasoans at the turquoise Formica counter. It was a favorite of the Bush family, and when asked by Texas Monthly in 2014 what his favorite place in Texas was, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons answered H&H.
“The exotic call of thinking, ‘Let’s clean up this vehicle, and, while we’re at it, get a taco’ – it just doesn’t get much better than that,” he said.
El Paso Inc. sat down in the car wash bay last week and heard, among other things, how Haddad’s Arabic-speaking father and two uncles came from Syria to Mexico in the 1920s and found their way to El Paso where two Jewish families helped set them up in business.
Q: How did your family come to El Paso in the first place? And when was that?
Best we could tell, probably in the late ’20s. My dad had two younger brothers, and they were orphans. They had an uncle here, and that’s how they came.
Q: Were they in Syria?
Q: How old were they?
Probably late 20s when they came. They caught a boat from Syria and landed in Veracruz, Mexico. They took a train to Mexico City. Now here’s what people don’t quite understand, how speaking nothing but Arabic, they made that trip. Can you imagine what it was like?
That’s what made this country so great. They stayed in Juárez until they were able to get their papers. While they were in Juárez, they became peddlers selling dry goods.
I love to tell this story. Mr. Rosen, who had the Texas Store, financed them. So, they would buy product and sell it. At some point, my dad and the younger brother next to him opened a furniture store. Back then, there were a lot of mom and pop stores.
And so they opened and called it the Santa Fe Furniture Co. The guy that financed that was Albert Matthias, a wholesaler. So, there you had two Jewish families supporting two Syrian families.
You wouldn’t hear of that today. What people don’t understand is we’re brothers. We love each other.
Q: Was there a particular reason why your family came to El Paso?
Because they had an uncle here.
Q: How would you describe El Paso now, and what do you think about what’s happened here in the last few years?
Well, if you take the politics out of it, and there again, that’s a good thing to do – we’re great. You know, over the years, I’ve gotten to have relationships with coaches, and one thing they all have in common: They may not have liked the situation, but they’ll tell you how much they loved El Paso and how nice the people are.
Q: How did H&H go up at this location and why did you all decide to start a car wash?
Years ago, there used to be homes here, just like the old residential areas. This was residential, and over years, my dad bought the different homes.
And, so, at some point in time, they always want to set their sons up. Well, there were three of us brothers – me, Johnny and Kenny, who we called Bunny. Kenny was a kid when we opened this place.
Daddy didn’t know what to do. He didn’t want to stay in the furniture business, so he sold out to his brother. He didn’t know what to do after that.
One brother didn’t stay in El Paso. He was living in Vegas and he said, “Why don’t you open the car wash?”
My dad liked that idea, so he went to Phoenix where they had them, and he loved that. So, they tore all the homes down here on this corner. My dad had no formal education, but he was street smart.
People asked him how he came up with the idea of a coffee shop. It was my dad’s idea side.
Q: That’s what made this place unique back then, wasn’t it? A car wash with a café offering food, too? Who came up with that?
Well, my brother, the youngest one, Bunny, he came up with that idea originally. My dad’s idea was having a snack bar, like the old soda fountains. Later on, in about 1974, Kenny, who we called Bunny, took over, and he made it what it is today.
Q: He passed away two years ago?
Q: When did H&H Car Wash start?
In October 1958.
Q: And who started it?
My dad, my brother, Johnny and me.
Q: How do you feel about closing?
I think it’s great.
Q: Have you wanted to retire for a long time?
Well, no. I don’t plan ahead. It’s just time. Nothing to do with this COVID crap, but it was costing us to stay open.
Q: You weren’t getting business in here?
I was OK, but closed the car wash at the first of June. That was a real blessing. I mean financially.
Yes, it was time and I’m grateful. I’m sure I’ve gone through a little depression about it, but I can’t say how happy I am.
Q: What was so great about getting an H&H car wash? And what did you charge?
We were so stupid that we were at $12 for 18 years.
You know, it’s amazing, especially on the large vehicles, the big trucks, that the most we’d get is $30. Our competitors were getting anywhere from $40 to $50. We weren’t really aggressive about it.
Q: You were leaving a lot on the table.
We were having a lot of fun. But, yeah, we left too much on the table, you’re right.
Q: Besides that great price, what else was special about an H&H car wash?
Well, we hand-washed them in the first place. It was very labor-intense. You know, we didn’t have any equipment. None of the big brushes and all that. We also detailed them and cleaned your windows inside. That’s why we should have gone up on the price.
But we had a great run and had wonderful customers, and there’s a group of them that I will miss.
Q: What’s the worst thing you remember happening here?
The mountain lion.
Q: I forget about that. How did it get loose?
What I liked about that story is that Obama was talking at the free bridge, but one television station said the mountain lion was the story of the day and didn’t say a damn thing about Obama.
Q: How did that mountain lion get loose here?
He came in on a rail car. He got out at the state building’s parking lot, and a veterinarian shot him with a tranquilizer gun, but it didn’t work. The lion came up the alleyway and came through the St. Clement’s schoolyard and landed in here. We were able to close the gates.
The veterinarian shot him with another tranquilizer that scared the hell out of him, but it didn’t work. So, he goes jumping out of the gates and they shot him. They had to do that.
Q: Were there any awards?
My Brother got the James Beard Award for the restaurant and the food. That was quite an honor.
Q: For the quality of your breakfasts and your meals?
Yeah. They judged it by the different types of business. Like ours is a small restaurant. It was a big deal. Two people that really helped us as far as bringing people here were Park Kerr of El Paso Chile and Adair Margo. They’re really nice people.
Q: What do you think about the idea of putting a deck over the freeway for a park?
I don’t want to discuss politics.
Q: OK, now I don’t know whether to ask you this. What do you think about COVID-19 and the pandemic? Got the shot?
Yes, I have gotten my shot – not because I wanted to. How do I feel about it? If our government’s confused, how do you think people are? I mean, one day it says this, the next day it’s that. Wear a mask, don’t wear a mask. I mean, the numbers that people don’t even understand. So I just think it’s a great political football that’s got people scared.
Q: Do you still have that old fire truck we used to see in parades and events like that?
It was a ’42 Ford. We sold it to a couple that came here from Las Vegas, Nevada, and when he saw it, he said, “You want to sell that truck?”
Q: When was that?
Six years ago.
Q: Did he give you a good price for it?
He asked, “How much you want for it?” I said $2,300. He said, “You got a deal.” My brother couldn’t believe we got that much.
Q: Is it still in use?
He said he was going to drive it to Vegas – was going to fix it up. So he worked on it here, got it to where it was running. And that’s what they did. He was going to rehab it and make a classic out of it. He was supposed to send us a picture of the finished product, but we never heard from him again.
Q: So, Maynard, what are you going to do now?
We’ll lay back and just stay home. We’re not big drivers. We’re not going to do all that retirement crap. Just relax. I’d love to, hopefully, at some point in time, do some volunteer work.