Cecilia San Miguel is transforming La Mision into the new home for Velvet Elvis Pizza Company. Photo by Charlotte Lowe

The Velvet Elvis Pizza Company, on Naugle Ave., is soon going to be transplanted. It’s getting a much bigger pot. The restaurant will soon move to a new, much larger location, in the building formerly known as La Mision (soon to be rechristened as Velvet Elvis).

It’s also going to be quite posh, thanks to transformations to La Mision. Think crystal chandeliers (three of them in the bar), new art, Mexican antiques galore and private conference rooms for sealing a deal – marital or property. Plus, there will be a wine room. Elvis is getting even more velvet.

Both sites are owned by Cecelia San Miguel. The current site of Velvet Elvis will soon be for sale. But, to renovate La Mision with new ovens, and transforming an old stage and dance floor to a kitchen, takes seed money—and faith. San Miguel has faith that abundance will happen when most needed. She walks a tightrope.

After 23 years in the restaurant business here, San Miguel thinks moving one of her restaurants to another location that she has owned since 2002 is a good bet. 

She has had some problems with her current location. In May, the ice maker at Velvet Elvis broke down. That was the deal breaker for San Miguel. She bought about 20 bags of ice from Patagonia Market next door and then remembered she had a small freezer at La Mision.

Her employees insisted that it was a most definite sign that the Velvet Elvis should move down the road, with a large new kitchen, repurposed pizza ovens and—ice. Enough ice.

La Mision used to be The Big Steer, vintage 1915, the other bar in town. Some of it remains with the original adobe walls, and some additions of vintage tin semi-roofing from a neighboring rancher, Norman Hale.

The Big Steer was an adobe walled bar. It had soul and some in the community resented that The Big Steer was repurposed. There are some long-time residents who, when La Mision was open with a bar, tapas, live music, and dancing, would never enter — just on principle.

Perhaps they thought San Miguel singlehandedly tore down that bit of Patagonia history. Truth is, The Big Steer wasn’t doing enough business to keep any bar open. I was at karaoke one Saturday night with three friends from Tucson. The only people on board were my crew and Patti Matricito, the latter singing mighty well, if solo. That part of our history ended when the owner needed to sell and there was an ambitious buyer.

San Miguel preserved what she could at the Big Steer and added her own, very special touches. Her aim was, and is, to preserve the history of the building. “The adobe for this building was made by hand right there at the site. It contains the spirits of those people who lived in this community. Here we have something that creates for the community a sense of continuity. The past and the present coexist here.”

It became, as are most of San Miguel’s efforts, quite grand. There was a high ceiling, a huge venue with a bar, and a dance floor with many local bands playing on the bandstand. It was also a huge financial risk trying to keep it afloat, even with the addition of a tapas bar. It became a losing proposition.

La Mision metamorphosed into crafts and clothing shops and later a possible wedding venue. But San Miguel has the financial nine lives of a cat. She is an amazing, self-acknowledged risk taker who always finds a way to create new spaces, and new projects. She works on an ever evolving budget depending on who she can get to work, and where she might get seed money.

San Miguel did not get her success handed to her on the proverbial silver platter. Before coming to town she was a recent widow who had been roaming the South American jungles, seeking wisdom and peace for a year after her husband’s death.

San Miguel came to Patagonia on the advice of two women she met on an airplane back to her home in California, which she had just sold. The women said they had recently visited Patagonia and they insisted it would be perfect for her. San Miguel arranged to come to visit Patagonia. The first day she thought she had basically been directed to hell. San Miguel said, “No way, Patagonia. Forget it.” But within three days she had bought a house in town.

In 1998, San Miguel opened Patagonia’s then-latest version of gentrification, The Velvet Elvis, which was designated “An Arizona Treasure” by former Governor Janet Napolitano in 2005. San Miguel offered high end pizza, soups, salads, desserts, antipasto and a singularly compelling cocktail, the hibiscus margarita. 

San Miguel’s most recent creation is projected to open in July. And it is grand, with a 30 ft. bar of exotic parota wood built by local wood artisan Kevin Mckay. There is too much glamor, original art murals and atmosphere to describe. San Miguel has commissioned two 4′ x 5′ portraits, one of Elvis and one of Frida Kahlo, representing the fusion of the cultures in this border town. 

Where the dance floor and stage were, there is a new expanded kitchen. In one of the first rooms you enter (past murals of hummingbirds in the entryway) will be a room with round tables and a small stage for poetry readings, jazz, something not so loud that guests can’t enjoy their tapas and talk.

San Miguel is an ageless beauty and it might seem that she has never had to lift a hand. She moves gracefully among her Velvet Elvis customers as if business was nothing she had to worry her lovely head about. 

In La Mision she also runs a pristine, classically southwestern bed and breakfast plus one in a guest house at her home near the Sonoita Creek. She irons the sheets. Herself. For me that says it all.

San Miguel forged ahead with these renovations at La Mision even before the current site of Velvet Elvis is sold, because, as she told her two dubious adult children, “I’m expressing myself!”

San Miguel is a work ever in progress and we shall soon see her next re-invention revealed.