By: Tyler Pressley
DENTON — A local Mexican restaurant serves not only food, but also a sense of family to customers and employees alike.
Located off of the southeast corner of West Oak Street and Carroll Boulevard, Mi Casita (“My Little House” in English) has been in the city for the past 24 years.
Founders and Owners Matt and Lilly Kohandani have lived in Denton since the 1970s.
“We met in 1977, got married in 1979, and we’re still married!” Matt said with a laugh.
They met at a Seven Eleven that used to be located around Avenue D. Matt, who was a University of North Texas student at the time, was waiting on one of his friends to come out of the store, until he came across Lilly.
“It was 2, 3 in the morning back then,” Matt said. “Anyway, I said hello to her, and she came to the car, and we talked, and that was it. That’s all it took.”
Matt is originally from Iran, and he came to the U.S. as a college student. Lilly is originally from Monterrey, Mexico, and she came to the U.S. when she was about 3 years old.
The vast majority of the food that Mi Casita serves is from Lilly’s family recipes. She grew up cooking with her mother, and later on in life, she cooked meals for family gatherings. After some of her family members told her that she should open a restaurant one day, she did just that on August 22, 1996.
Pictured here are rice and beans with two cheese enchiladas (left) and a pork tamale (right). Nearly all of the food is made in-house using an owner’s set of family recipes that she has used for over 24 years.
(Photo Credit: Tyler Pressley)
“She was passing through [Carroll Boulevard] here back…’96, ’95, she saw this place, and she called me about it, and we came and looked at it,” Matt said. “We just fell in love, the whole thing, the way it was. Doesn’t look like the way it is now, but it was empty. Anyway, and we went and decided to go ahead and open up a restaurant.”
“And it just looked like a perfect, little casita—‘little house,’” Lilly said. “So that’s why we named it ‘Mi Casita.’”
Because nearly all of the food is made from Lilly’s family recipes, that also means that nearly all of it is made in-house.
“Everything here is being cooked from scratch, fresh stuff, every day, we cook for that day,” Matt said. “There is no lard or anything in our beans; it’s veggie. There is no chicken base in our rice; veggie as well. We have a lot of vegetarians come in here. It’s really good food, and we haven’t changed the menu in the last 24 something years.”
The Kohandanis’ children have worked at Mi Casita to help them get through college. They are now in their 30s, and most have moved on to other things. Some current employees have been there for around 20 years.
Over the years as a whole, Mi Casita has helped the Kohandanis establish relationships with not only their employees, but also their customers. One of them is UNT President Neal Smatresk. Matt said he comes by about once per week.
“Most of our customers are our friends,” Matt said. “They’ve come here for so long.”
“This is their kitchen away from home,” Lilly said.
Mi Casita is the Kohandanis’ way of life.
“We just wanted to change career when we were younger, and we just wanted to get something that we’ll leave for our kids, and I think this is what is going to be around after we are gone,” Matt said.
“It has been our livelihood,” Lilly said.
“It is our livelihood,” Matt said.