When Taqueria Victoria closes, another restaurant will take its place

Gabe Semenza

May 26, 2010 at 12:26 a.m.
Updated May 27, 2010 at 12:27 a.m.

Taqueria Victoria co-owner Cliff Kuykendall will serve the establishment's last dinner this Saturday. Cliff and wife, Maggie, are closing after 25 years downtown.

Taqueria Victoria co-owner Cliff Kuykendall will serve the establishment's last dinner this Saturday. Cliff and wife, Maggie, are closing after 25 years downtown.

For a decade, George and Joyce Matthews dined inside their favorite downtown restaurant at least once a week, oftentimes twice and sometimes even more.

They love the food, the atmosphere and the sense of belonging, they say.

When the Matthews learned on Wednesday the family-owned restaurant will close, Joyce Matthews had a tongue-in-cheek realization.

"I'm going to have to learn to cook," she said, laughing.

Taqueria Victoria, a staple of Victoria for 25 years, will close on Saturday. Shortly after, though, the doors will reopen. New owners will unveil a similar-but-different restaurant on June 1.

"We've been doing this for 25 years and it's time to do something else," said Cliff Kuykendall, the Taqueria's co-owner. "We're sad, sure. We have mixed emotions about the whole thing. It will be a relief, too."

Kuykendall rested in a chair after the 2 p.m. lunch rush on Wednesday and he visited at a table with the new restaurant owner.

Marbella Baez will lease Kuykendall's building, located at 209 S. Main St. She will soon open Mi Familia Taqueria, a Tex-Mex restaurant she says will be known for an assortment of enchiladas.

Food is, of course, a restaurant's main attraction. While the Matthews say they will miss their favorite dishes, they seem to already mourn the loss of amenities not found on a menu.

"They always made you feel welcome," George Matthews, who lives and works downtown as elections administrator, said. "Everyone knew and remembered what we like to eat. If Joyce said she wanted the regular, and it was lunchtime, they knew what she wanted."

Taqueria Victoria serves Mexican dishes and pasta, but George Matthews lauded its blue cheese burger; Joyce Matthews praised the pesto shrimp.

"That one is going to be my last meal there," she said. "We're definitely going to miss this place. It just felt like home and it was a big part of our lives. We've met lots of people there. In some ways, that's the only place we get to visit with a lot of friends."

Baez will now work to calm longtime patrons and attract new ones. She will at first remain open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., seven days a week. If customers ask for hours to extend to dinnertime, she will oblige, she said.

Baez and her assistant manager, Yolanda Flores, worked at Japaleños until it closed in December. The two hope their restaurant background translates into downtown success.

"I'm excited because it's going to be an adventure," Flores said.

The Kuykendalls also look forward to a new life, the husband said. Maggie Kuykendall, who is on vacation in Europe, will turn her efforts to charity work; the husband found full-time work in the oil and gas industry.

The Matthews say they will give the new restaurant a chance. They're not yet ready to forget Taqueria Victoria, though.

The Kuykendalls gave the couple a print of the restaurant's logo, which Joyce Matthews tacked to a hallway in her home. The print will remind the Matthews of their favorite restaurant memory.

On Valentine's Day about 10 years ago, they dined together inside Taqueria Victoria, which was swamped with couples on dates. The Kuykendalls were short-staffed and struggling to keep up with orders.

Despite the romance of the day, diners pushed back from their meals and helped to clean tables.

"Everybody just started helping out," George Matthews said. "It showed how much people cared about the people and the place. I don't know if people would do that at one of the chain restaurants."



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