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25 years of Border Grill [Updated]

December 15, 2010 |  1:07 pm


It’s hard to say which is a more remarkable achievement: 25 years of Border Grills, or the even-longer business partnership of Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, affectionately known as “The Border Grill Girls.” In a time and place when most restaurants flame out within a couple of years and most partnerships don’t last much longer, both are worth celebrating.

And so that’s what Milliken, Feniger and a couple hundred of their friends, including the band Ozomatli did Tuesday night at the newest Border Grill, the downtown restaurant formerly known as Ciudad. There were fresh-made tacos and quesadillas, grilled shrimp and potent margaritas. And, of course Milliken and Feniger working the line.

They took a moment to reflect on their long, strange trip, which started at the old City Café on Melrose in 1981. Four years later, as they were getting ready to open their full-fledged City restaurant on La Brea, they got the idea to also do a taco stand, which they called Border Grill. “Our cooks used to bring in these big bags of little soft carnitas tacos, and they were so good,” Feniger remembered. “We thought, ‘How hard can this be?’ Well, we found out it was pretty hard.”

Not only did the pair pioneer the upscale Mexican restaurants that now seem to be opening everywhere, in 1995 they also started the weekly "Good Food" radio show on KCRW-FM (89.9), hosted by Evan Kleiman since 1998. And in 1997, billed as the Too Hot Tamales they were among the first stars of the Food Network, taping 400 shows during its 10-year run.

The secret to their long-lived partnership? “I think we’ve always let each other grow in whatever direction we were passionate about,” Feniger says.

“And we both have different strengths; we’ve always known that and respected that, and no matter what has happened, we’ve never questioned each other's commitment,” Milliken says, finishing  the thought seamlessly, a natural habit after all these years.

[Updated at 5:10 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said City Cafe opened in 1986 and Border Grill in 1990, the business partnership was 25 years old and the celebration happened Monday night.]

-- Russ Parsons

Photo: Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger at their celebration Tuesday evening. Credit: Russ Parsons / Los Angeles Times