Contessas Cantina - Our History

Fine Sonoran Cooking For You - A Serrano Tradition for 5 Generations

Vanesa Serrano - The Contessa

This story spans five generations of cooking for Southeast Arizona and Sonoran region families by the Serrano's. "Contessa" Vanesa Serrano (4th generation), proprietress of their latest restaurant venture, Contessa's Cantina, is the storyteller. It is a story of love, dedication and tradition that makes Cantessa's Cantina a don't miss place to dine in Bisbee, Arizona.

In the late 1800's my Great Grandmother, Cleotilde de la Cruz, was a single mother with four daughters to feed. She served hot meals out of her home in Fronteras, Sonora, Mexico. Her mother was known to have food establishments in the region also. She became ill and was told she had little time left. Upon hearing this she was forced to give up her daughters for adoption.

My Grandmother, Carmen Martinez (born 1906), was adopted by the Martinez family in Fronteras, Sonora. She and her sister Manuela endured a hard life as slaves. They cooked, cleaned and carried water from the river for the family to bathe.

Carmen was a great beauty, six feet tall with red hair and blue eyes. In the late 1920's she met a young Hispanic soldier fighting for the revolution with General Plutarco Elias Calles. Juan Garibaldi Serrano, a well known doctor, immediately fell in love with Carmen. They married quickly and moved to Douglas, Arizona.

They had eleven children before Juan passed away at an early age. In order for her and her eight remaining children to survive she moved back to Mexico and began serving meals out of her home and sending her seven daughters and one son to sell food on the streets and trains to the soldiers stationed in Nacozori, Sonora. My mother talks about being taken out of school in second grade and working 12 hour days.

Serrano family in Washington DC
La Fiesta Cafe 1986 Calendar
Martha - Mother
Mom Martha

My Grandmother soon opened a cafe called El Bahia in Nacozori. It was there that her daughters Eloisa, twins Maria Luisa and Martha, Josefina, Lydia, Olga, Antonietta and son Elias all learned to prepare and serve traditional Mexican Sonoran food.

My mother Martha, upon learning that she and her twin were born in Douglas, Arizona immediately moved back to Douglas and began bar tending and working in the chile factory. She soon opened a bar called the All Star Club in Pirtleville and started serving hot meals.

In 1968 she opened her first restaurant, La Fiesta Cafe at 524 8th Street in Douglas. Martha Serrano Segovia, along with husband Trini, daughters Vanesa and Carmen, sister Eloisa Serrano, cousin Herminia Olivaria and others staffed this popular cafe until 1991.

In 1988, Martha and the rest of the La Fiesta family were invited by the administration of President Ronald Reagan to cater an event at the White House. Arizona US Senators Dennis DeConcini and John McCain were present for the dinner along with many other dignitaries from the states and Mexico.

Serrano family in Washington DC
The Serrano family in Washington DC with Senators Deconcini and McCain
Contessa Vanesa Serrano with husband Jeff at their marriage ceremony at the Cantina
Contessa Vanesa Serrano with husband Jeff at their marriage ceremony at the Cantina

"Contessa" Vanesa Serrano managed the La Fiesta for a number of years. She then opened The Grand Cafe at 1119 G Avenue in Douglas in 1991. Vanesa appeared in Gourmet Magazine in December, 1995 and catered for governors, senators and more until 2003. She then took a 10 year break in Bahia Kino in Sonora, Mexico where she learned a different Sonoran cuisine. After moving back to Bisbee, Arizona Vanesa learned the Old Tymers Bar building was available and decided to pursue the business of providing great food and good times again and opened Contessa's Cantina at 202 Tombstone Canyon in Old Bisbee, Arizona.

Contessa's Cantina serves fine authentic Sonoran cuisine Monday through Saturday (lunch and dinner) and is available for weddings and parties up to 140 people.

Vanesa states: "Single mothers selling food to support their children is a family tradition for at least five generations. The Serrano family thanks you for the all the years of support by patronizing our establishments."

Contessa Vanesa in Tombstone, Arizona
Contessa Vanesa in Tombstone, Arizona