Far more than just a restauranteur, Miguel Ribera was a beloved community leader with a passion for helping local Latino youth. Born in New Mexico in 1916 and orphaned as a child, Ribera moved to Reno by 1959, and by that fall was cooking Mexican food at a restaurant at 145 West 3rd Street called La Cha Cha.
In December of 1959, Ribera opened his own Mexican restaurant in this converted house at 1415 South Virginia Street. Originally a family home built in the 1920s, the house had first become a restaurant in 1956, when Maria de Flores operated it as the Casa de Flores, offering Spanish food well into the wee hours of the morning.
Ribera briefly renamed the eatery Casa de Amor, or “House of Love,” switched the menu to Mexican cuisine, and announced it would be open 24 hours a day. In 1960 he gave the restaurant his first name, and the popular chef soon served as an ambassador of Mexican food to the eager local community. By 1961 “Chef Miguel” was making appearances at the Reno YMCA for demonstrations of “foreign cooking.”
Ribera’s wife, Maralyn, and their daughter Antonia also worked in the restaurant. The generous family provided scholarships to many of their employees, including a young Emma Sepulveda, who went on to become an accomplished writer and professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.
The Riberas originally rented the building from its owner, former San Francisco Mayor Elmer Robinson. In 1963, Robinson told Ribera that he had made a $5,000 down payment in Ribera's daughter's name, and that the restaurant now belonged to him. In 1965, a major fire forced Ribera to temporarily relocate the restaurant to a new location, 2700 S. Virginia Street (across from the Peppermill). After repairs were finished, he decided to keep Miguel's at the newer location and opened new restaurants in this space, first the Jolly Roger and then The Cove. By 1980, however, the original location was back to operating as Miguel’s Fine Mexican Food.
Miguel Ribera passed away in 1998. For his years of dedication to the community, the Miguel Ribera Family Resource Center at Pine Middle School and Miguel Ribera Park are both named after him. In 2001, Elmer and Adilia Figueroa bought Miguel’s, which they continued to operate under his name.