La Familia Mexican Restaurant invites its customers to feel right at home like one big, happy family with room for more.
“We try to make everybody feel like family. We try to make everybody feel like home,” said Luis Rodriguez, who manages La Familia, located at 912 Gilmer St., for his older brother Dario, who owns the establishment and the original La Familia in Paris. “We are 22 brothers and sisters. We are a lot, so a few more? No matter — no problem.
“It’s really happy when you have big family. We have a lot of love.”
The family of 18 boys and four girls grew up as farmers in Zacatecas, Mexico, approximately five hours northwest of Mexico City.
“We had space to grow beans, poblano peppers, corn,” Luis explained. “We sold to a big company. We did well, but we just want to try to come to the states and better ourselves and serve the people.”
According to Luis, his big brother Dario was the first to venture off to Texas 26 years ago, making his living working in restaurants, learning all that he could about the business and saving his money until he could open his own.
Through the years, all but one sibling has immigrated to the United States. Luis made the journey 13 years ago when he was 13 years old.
“I started working for him when I was 13, started as a dish washer, cleaned tables, then moved to the kitchen,” he recalled.
With four stations in the kitchen — grill, cold table, hot table and fryer — Luis worked his way through each before learning to wait tables and work the cash register. After learning all aspects of the business, Dario put Luis in charge of the Sulphur Springs location when it opened its doors in March of 2007.
“I love cooking, I love the people — I wouldn’t be here if I don’t love cooking,” he said with a laugh. “In the kitchen you feel good to see all the people come in to eat at your restaurant. To come out and see the restaurant full — it’s a good feeling.”
Many of the menu items are favorite foods from old Mexico, with a whole section of combination dinners named for the towns of their home country, such as Puebla, Atlixco, Tatetla, Itzocan, Fresnillo, Chihuahua and, of course, Zacatecas.
“We serve traditional Mexican food, but since we are in Texas, it is called Tex-Mex,” he said with a smile.
Other menu items such as the guiso poblano, sautéed with diced tomatoes and onions, was created by his brother, who Luis said enjoys trying new things with varied combinations of ingredients.
One of the most popular items on the menu, according to Luis, are traditional Mexican tacos made with corn tortillas, fajita beef or chicken, sautéed onions, cilantro and guacamole.
“That is our Wednesday special. A lot of people like it,” he said.
Something not yet on the menu, but available for those who know to ask for it, is tres leches, or milk cake. It is served just under the freezing temperature mark and is absolutely delicious as I discovered during the interview. What a treat!
La Familia’s hot sauce, guacamole, queso and other sauces are made fresh daily by Luis himself.
According to Luis, running a restaurant 7 days a week leaves limited time for fun and relaxation.
“We are all rotating out the door,” said Luis, who lives in Paris and commutes 45 minutes each day. “We have to be ready for tomorrow, stay on top of how much food we have, how much food we need to order.”
One of his sisters has her own restaurant, as well, and runs it with the help of two of their other sisters and the youngest brother.
“We all help each other,” Luis said. “My father, he teach us responsibility. My mother teach us respect for everyone.”
Luis said his father died five years ago. His mother and one brother remain in Mexico visiting about three times a year. Five of his siblings have also died through the years leaving, 17 brothers and sisters.
“We all get together, it’s a mess,” he laughed, explaining he has a young daughter and each of his siblings have two or three kids a piece. “Easy to make two teams of football soccer.”
In addition to responsibility and respect, Luis said a good work ethic was instilled in the family by his parents.
According to Luis, work and life is very different in the United States compared to Mexico.
“It is a better life living here. Here you have to work to eat, pay for water, pay for a house. In Mexico there are times you don’t work,” he explained. “You save food from crops, put food back, saving the whole time. If someone doesn’t have food to eat, we share. Everybody helps everybody. Here it is very fast-paced, but a good life.”
La Familia provides the Rodriguez clan their livelihood, therefore Luis said their top priority is making customers feel at home through good food and good service.
“Keeping all the customers happy all the time, it’s hard, but we try to do our best,” he said. “We try to make them feel like a part of the family.”
La Familia is open Sundays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
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