Tee Pee Mexican Food has been an Arcadia staple since 1958. It’s a family-owned restaurant that owner Kathy Killeen holds near and dear to her heart. She learned how to cook in the restaurant’s kitchen with her parents Tony and Anna, who passed it along to her in the 70s. Arcadia News caught up with Kathy to learn more.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Phoenix. I am a fourth generation Phoenician. I’ve been in Arcadia since 1964.
What is your favorite part of Arcadia?
We live in such a charming neighborhood. There is so much to love. I love the fact that I have been witness to generations of families coming into Tee Pee. I have witnessed children being brought in as babies, growing up, getting married, starting their own families that are now bringing their own babies into Tee Pee.
These same customers have witnessed my children grow up, get married and have their babies. Therefore, my customers become like family. We have been privileged to be a part of their memories. I love all the progression we have seen in the neighborhood as of late. I love all the new homes and businesses mixed in with the older ones. My favorite part of Arcadia is that we, as a community, are progressive and are accepting of change while also keeping it old school. We are a kind community that takes care of each other.
How long have you been the owner of Tee Pee?
I have owned it for the last 20 years. Before that it belonged to my parents.
I started working for them when I was 15 and at this point, I have done every job there is to be done in a restaurant.
I was a hostess during high school, but I guess it was a natural progression for me to follow in my parents’ footsteps. I was very fortunate to learn from their hands.
Any interesting facts about Tee Pee?
We have had many celebrities come in to eat with us, as well as various athletes, movie stars and President George Bush, Jr. Many people do not know that my parents were not the first owners.
My father Tony Duran was the accountant for the two brothers who owned it in 1960. After a few years they offered to sell it to him, and the rest is history.
Who first taught you how to cook?
My mother. She was the only cook when they bought Tee Pee in the 1960s and added her own creativity and love to the menu. She was a tiny woman and needed help so I would come in and assist her. She was such a lovely, sweet, gentle person who taught me so much in the kitchen. She trained me in preparing all the recipes. I have so many fond memories of time alone with her at the crack of dawn cooking while the world was still asleep. We have always cooked everything fresh daily, so we had to get an early start.
Where else have you worked?
When I was 21 years old, I worked at a restaurant called Boojum Tree on 19th St. and Camelback. It was next to the old Coco’s that used to be there.
What is the inspiration behind the dishes at Tee Pee?
The inspiration is to continue the tradition of carrying on the same great taste and quality that was created so many generations ago.
We are known for our chili relleno. We are the only place that serves it here in town. It’s an egg soufflé, made mostly from egg whites, a few yolks and whipped to a meringue, cut into two halves, browned on each side and stacked together then stuffed with green chili strips and cheese and baked. It’s totally out of this world – people come from all over to try it. It takes around 30 minutes to bake but it’s so worth it.
What is the most challenging part of working in the restaurant industry?
Keeping up with the constantly changing rules and regulations with tax laws and health recommendations. Things are always changing in this business.
What is the one item you cannot live without in your kitchen?
My Hobart mixer. I use it for making refried beans, tamales, chorizo and many other items. Also, fresh chili from Hatch, New Mexico is a must.
What is your go-to comfort food?
There are so many great restaurants around the Arcadia neighborhood and we frequent just about all of them. My favorite comfort food is Italian and my favorite place is Adela’s Italian Restaurant on 40th St. and Thomas. The food and atmosphere is so relaxing. I love it there.
What do you do when you’re not working?
My husband Zip and I enjoy relaxing on our patio at home with our fur babies listening to music. We enjoy traveling when we can and visiting with our friends and family.
What advice has stayed with you throughout the years?
The advice my parents would always give me pertaining to running a restaurant was:
1. Always work together as a team.
2. Never ask anyone to perform a job that you, yourself, would not be willing to do.
3. Always roll up my sleeves and jump in to get it done.
4. Never be too proud to push a broom.
Who inspires you?
My inspiration comes from my parents. I was so blessed to have them as my parents. They were both such wonderful examples of people who always showed up to everything in life with an incredible amount of kindness, generosity and love in their hearts. They inspire me to live a life with honesty and integrity.
How was Tee Pee affected during the shutdown?
Our figures are off from last year but considering we missed spring training season and a lot of tourism, we did not do too bad.
We are so blessed to have so many loyal customers that saw us through this difficult time and are still supporting us. Our local community keeps us in business. Thanks to them we were able to stay open serving to-go orders and selling our house-made margaritas – that was a huge seller during the shutdown. We were running out of gallon jugs to sell them in!
I do want to say thank you to all that support local family businesses. We truly appreciate you!