“She was like a grandmother to everybody that came in there. Some of the customers even called her grandmother,” daughter Linda Ainza said. “They’d been coming there since they were little and thought of her as their own grandmother.”
Knechel, 85, technically had six children of her own as well as numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
She was born in El Centro, and her parents opened Camacho’s Place on Wahl Road west of Austin Road in 1946.
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Knechel took over the restaurant which became an unfailing draw for locals, visitors from all over the world, celebrities and film crews.
Just recently, she cooked for Prince Harry of England who was in town training at Naval Air Facility El Centro.
“Everybody loves her. She would go out there and talk to the customers and tell her the whole history of the restaurant and the family in general,” Ainza said. “She’s always good for a joke, always smiling.”
Restaurant visitors could often see Knechel joking around with daughter Rosie Cuellar, who will be taking over the restaurant now after working there for 40 years.
“We always made each other laugh,” Cuellar said. “It’s a lot of responsibility, but we can’t let it go. She would have wanted it to keep going.”
She also loved to cook and create, always whipping up something new in the kitchen, and was behind the famous special quesadilla served at the restaurant.
Knechel had lived next door to the restaurant that’s open six days a week excluding Mondays, and saw it as her “second home,” Ainza said.
Despite her fame in the Valley, she was “a very humble person and always ready to help people. Whenever someone would be hurting, she’d try to give them suggestions to help their health,” Ainza explained. “She had a big heart. She would help anyone.”
Knechel also reached out and helped the community through sponsoring teams, participating with community youth groups and schools.
Cuellar said when she spoke with her mother Friday, her spirits were high.
“She said, ‘You know what Rosie? Things are good now, Things are happy, everything’s nice. I’ll see you tomorrow,’” she said.
The cause of the sudden death is undetermined, and the restaurant was closed Saturday. It is open today but will be closed Thursday and Friday in observance of Knechel’s death.
When the restaurant was packed on Sunday, Cuellar wondered if it was her mother still playfully testing her.
“She and my grandmother are probably cooking it up in heaven,” she said.
Visitation and services are open to the public. Visitation is 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday at Hems Bros. Mortuary chapel in Calexico, and a graveside service is 10 a.m. Friday at the Mountain View Cemetery, also in Calexico.
Staff Writer Chelcey Adami can be reached at 760-337-3452 or firstname.lastname@example.org