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Ninfa Rodriguez Laurenzo Papers

Identifier: 2008-008

Ninfa’s Papers include business plans, business, personal, and political correspondence, photographs, magazine and newspaper clippings press coverage, proof of public service deeds, scrapbooks, artifacts (buttons and stamps, memorabilia, menus, plaques), and framed enlarged picture and media items and roughly cover the years from 1971 to 2001.


  • 1971-2004

Conditions Governing Access

Open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Special Collections owns the physical items in our collections, but copyright normally belongs to the creator of the materials or their heirs. The researcher has full responsibility for determining copyright status, obtaining permission to publish from copyright holders, and abiding by current copyright laws when publishing or displaying copies of Special Collections material in print or electronic form. For more information, consult the appropriate librarian. Reproduction decisions will be made by Special Collections staff on a case-by-case basis.


9.0 linear feet

Biographical / Historical

In 1969, Ninfa’s husband died suddenly, and she was left to raise five children. Ninfa mortgaged her house and opened a little taqueria on the site of the tortilla factory. In 1973, she opened a ten-table restaurant, serving her mother’s recipes and adding her own. With money from a friend in Mexico, Ninfa soon opened a second dining room and later pushed out a wall to expand again. Within ten years, the single restaurant expanded into a multi-million dollar business with nine restaurants in Houston and one in Dallas. In 1985, Ninfa employed 800-1000 people and served about two million people per year. Some believe that Ninfa Laurenzo laid the foundation for the Mexican restaurant industry in Houston.

Ninfa’s restaurants were so successful that expansion came fast and led to excessive debt. Restaurants opened too quickly and without reliable store managers. In 1985, Ninfa, USA became a subsidiary of McFaddin, which employed her sons as executives. Ninfa remained with Ninfa’s Inc. That arrangement did not last. By 1997, an Austin restaurant chain bought the company to pull it out of bankruptcy.

With her success, Ninfa gave back to the community with nonprofit service. She served on the boards of the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center, Houston Community College System, Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority and Houston Hispanic Forum. She received many rewards as well, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Business Recognition Award, for example. In 1984, Vice-President George Bush appointed Ninfa to be one of five goodwill ambassadors to welcome Pope John Paul II to Puerto Rico. In 1996, Ninfa Laurenzo was named one of eight Legends of Texas along with Walter Cronkite and Barbara Jordan, for their impact on Texas and their local communities. Ninfa was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998, and Theater under the Stars made her life into a musical.

Ninfa Laurenzo represented her community politically as well. In 1988, Ninfa seconded George H. W. Bush’s nomination for president in the Republican Convention in New Orleans. In 1992, Ninfa was co-chair of the hospitality committee for the Republican Convention in Houston where she opened the convention with a speech in both English and Spanish, and she led the delegates in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Through marriage, the Laurenzo family is tied to both the Mandolas and Carrabas. At the opening of a new restaurant, one of Ninfa’s sons, Tom Laurenzo said, “We have a story to tell about a woman who is a great cook and about her family that followed her into the business.” Ninfa Laurenzo died in 2001, but her restaurants and her children’s restaurants continue as landmarks in Houston’s cultural history.

Custodial History

The Ninfa Rodriquez Laurenzo Papers were acquired for the University of Houston Libraries in partnership with the Houston History Archives initiative of the UH Center for Public History.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Phyllis Mandola in 2008.

Guide to the Ninfa Rodriguez Laurenzo Papers
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Revision Statements

  • 2021-07-15: As a part of the 2021 Special Collections reparative description project, Brooks Whittaker added subject headings to this finding aid to better represent individuals and promote discoverability of collection materials.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Houston Libraries Special Collections Repository

University of Houston Libraries Special Collections
MD Anderson Library
4333 University Drive
Houston TX 77204-2000 USA