Cornudas Cafe owner says road sign is killing her business

Road sign affecting restaurant

EL PASO, Texas - A cafe owner says her business is drowning after the Texas Department of Transportation put up a sign that's causing drivers past her business.

If you've headed east on Highway 180 towards Carlsbad Caverns, you know there's not much to look at except some odd-shaped cacti and the occasional passer-by.

An hour east of El Paso, however, there's the Cornudas Cafe, a rustic restaurant that has been around a long time.

"About 97 years," said May Carson, who bought the cafe back in 1982.

She turned the tiny rest-stop into a renowned oasis. She opened up a few slots and made an RV park. She added a few simple motel rooms. Carson also created a small gift shop with some Southwest keepsakes.

"I have everything that a car can use that comes off of the shelf," Carson added.

What really brings customers into the Cornudas Cafe, Carson said, is the home-style cooking. "I've been on the Best Country Cafe's of Texas, I've been on Good Morning America,a documentary on PBS. I've done really good out here."

The cafe is know for one particular item on the menu: the so-called "best green chili cheeseburger in the Southwest."

About four months ago, TX-DOT put up this sign stating "next service: 128 miles."  The Cornudas Cafe is about 50 miles away.

"I was furious," Carson said, adding business has drastically dropped since the sign went up.

Carson immediately called TXDOT asking them to take the sign down and they told her they couldn't.

"There's a long stretch of desolate highway and it's very dark and there's very little illumination out there," said TXDOT spokesperson, Jennifer Wright.

Wright tells ABC-7 it's a risk driving late at night on a very dark highway and they want to caution drivers there aren't services for the long stretch.

"This roadway segment has a history of numerous fatal and injury crashes that are attributed to driver fatigue. We experience this phenomenon on IH-10 and US 62/180 in Culberson and Hudspeth counties. We believe that drivers do not understand the distances between population centers along these corridors and they attempt the drive too far without a rest break," she said.

TXDOT said there have been 228 crashes and 10 fatalities in that stretch of highway since 2011. 

"She's not open for 24/7 so it's not the same as having a truck stop or someplace where you can get aid in the middle of the night," Wright said.

This is not the first time transportation officials install signs warning drivers of the lack of 'round-the-clock services although there are some services nearby.

"The signs that were installed are similar to the signs installed on US 62/180 a few years back by the NMDOT near White's City, NM," Wright said. That's at the opposite end of the same roadway. White's City near Carlsbad Caverns also has a cafe and an RV park but are not open all the time.

Wright said they are trying to help with Carson's situation. "We have ordered signs that will have the symbols for RV park, dining and a place to stay," Wright added. TXDOT told ABC-7 it will put up the signs at no cost to Carson. "We believe these signs will support our effort as they will encourage motorists to stop who otherwise might not. They will be installed as soon as they are fabricated and delivered. We anticipate that this will occur before the end of the year."

While Carson may welcome the signs, she's in a race against time. "Right now, they've threatened to turn my electricity off. What am I going to do then? I'm gone when that happens," Carson said.

The Cornudas Cafe on Highway 180 is open Wed. to Mon. from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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