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Birthdays, banking and barbecue


As you drive around Las Cruces today and see financial institutions on every corner, it’s difficult to imagine our city had only two banks in 1969.

A few visionaries wanted to change that, and in April 1970, Citizens Bank opened its doors.

A half-century later, Citizens Bank still works to build what one of its founding shareholders, Jim Ikard, said in those original days: “We want a purely local bank.”

Ikard’s father, J.A. Ikard, and brother, John Ikard, were among the 47 original shareholders.

Earlier this year, I visited with Citizens Bank CEO Jed Fanning and Ruth Christopher, the bank’s executive vice president and chief financial officer. They, and all the Citizens Bank team, were all set to spend 2020 with a big public celebration of the bank’s 50th anniversary.

Well, the pandemic got in the way, so they’re celebrating this year instead.

The bank was founded with a community mission to give opportunities to the underserved in Las Cruces. The state’s banking charter considered Citizens a minority bank because most of its stockholders were Hispanic.

The bank also sought to be a partner in small, locally owned businesses.

In 1975, Jesus “Chuy” and Elsa Rodriguez moved from California to Las Cruces, where the drier climate was better for Chuy’s health. A random conversation in line at the grocery store put Elsa and Chuy in touch with a Realtor, who led them to the Ranchway restaurant at 604 N. Valley Drive, which was for sale.

“We went to see the little restaurant,” Elsa said. “We sat down, and they were only selling three things: barbecue sandwiches, barbecue burritos and a brisket plate. We had lunch, and we both said, ‘This product is good. Let’s do it!’”

Their accountant recommended Citizens Bank for the loan.

“Citizens Bank has been very wonderful for us,” Elsa said. “Before the building was a restaurant, it was someone’s house. When we got it, there was only one bathroom, and it had a tub.”

Adding a bathroom – and eliminating the tub – is just one of the upgrades and renovations over the years. Citizens Bank has helped at each step.

For years, Jim Ikard worked directly with Elsa and Chuy.

“Jim became very important for us,” Elsa said. “I was always grateful Ranchway was one of his favorite restaurants. He always came to eat with a person or two, and often with his family.”

By popular demand, a few years in, Chuy and Elsa added Mexican food, borrowing recipes from Chuy’s mother in Mexico.

“She was an excellent cook, and when we brought in her chile chipotle, nobody knew what it was,” Elsa said.

The pork steak adovada, one of their specialties, is one of my favorites.

“That recipe is also from Chuy’s mother,” she said.

Their son, also named Chuy, runs the restaurant now.

“He’s worked there since he was 17, and now we’ve passed the responsibility to him,” Elsa said. “But we’re still very much involved.”

I love all the Ranchway food, not to mention the cool art and memorabilia on the walls. In many ways, it’s a Las Cruces museum. The barbecue is still great, and they make a mean green chile cheeseburger.

I’ve always been grateful to the Rodriguez family for Ranchway, a wonderful slice of Las Cruces flavor and history.

Now I know I also owe thanks to Citizens Bank. Happy 50th anniversary to the institution that helped build Las Cruces!

Richard Coltharp