Prickly Pear Closes
But the staff hopes to find a new owner
by Trilby MacDonald
From the April, 2020 issue
Prickly Pear has been a Main St. institution since 1991, when Gary Pearce and his wife, Mary Miller, opened it as newlyweds. Pearce, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, was chef at the Campus Inn, but it was his dream to own a restaurant. Against the advice of their lawyer, the couple poured all their financial resources into opening the fifty-seat Southwestern restaurant. They inherited ornate wooden booths from the short-lived 328 S. Main, and university students painted the tin ceiling tiles, embossed with gothic floral designs, in a rainbow of colors. The family-friendly restaurant quickly became known for its kitchen with bright Southwestern flavors, goblet-sized margaritas, and warm, personal service, and developed a loyal following. The restaurant's kitchen and waitstaff are similarly devoted: many have worked there for over a decade, others since the beginning. As Pearce and Miller's family grew, Miller stepped back from her role in the restaurant but continued to manage the books. Eventually she opened Main Street Massage Therapy, which she runs out of a studio above the restaurant (she declined to be interviewed for this article).
When Pearce died suddenly in 2016, the future of the restaurant was in doubt. "The restaurant was his baby," says Ullisses Porto, who has been waiting tables at Prickly Pear since 2005. But the staff proved able to run the place without him. "We never needed a manager," says Porto. "We all know what to do."
After Pearce passed away, Miller eventually decided to sell her portion. Porto hopes that a buyer will appear, although investors may be wary in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Prickly Pear is closed until further notice.
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[Originally published in April, 2020.]
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