McFaddin Cafe reopens; man fulfills dream (w/video)
By BY ALLISON MILES - THE VICTORIA ADVOCATE
Jan. 15, 2014 at 5 p.m.
Updated Jan. 14, 2014 at 7:15 p.m.
MCFADDIN - A walk through the white wooden building just past the train tracks, a mercantile store turned restaurant, offers glimpses at days long since past.
Old pistols, cigar boxes, antique advertisements and more sit throughout the McFaddin Cafe while even the structure itself points to regional history.
"That's from hurricane winds," said John Gonzales, the eatery's owner, indicating the building's curved exterior wall and wooden floors. "This place has survived a lot."
With the October reopening of the McFaddin Cafe, Gonzales said he's working to breathe new life into a building so firmly rooted in the Crossroads.
Restaurant ownership was a longtime dream for the McFaddin native with training in French cuisine. He even purchased red leather booths from Furr's Family Dining after the eatery's closure, just in case.
"They sat in my living room for a long time," he said with a smile. "It looked a little funny."
Finally, the former oil-field worker said, he decided to take a chance with the cafe, a business he'd frequented since childhood. Gonzales spoke with the McFaddin Cafe's owners, signed a lease and got the ball rolling.
Still, it wasn't always easy going.
Gonzales found himself dealing with equipment failures, replacements and the stresses that accompany any new business venture. And the hurdles didn't end on opening day.
Once McFaddin Cafe got off the ground again - for years, previous owners operated restaurants from the building - he said he faced another obstacle: meeting the demands of hungry ranchers.
With a two-person team on most days - Gonzales and Vera Mitchell, a cook, assistant manager and jack-of-all-trades - a busy lunch hour becomes hectic.
"You'd be surprised how packed this place can get sometimes," he said with a glance around the dining room.
Mitchell agreed, and while she said they have perfected their routine somewhat, she encouraged customers to practice patience if the wait is longer than anticipated.
"We're going as fast as we can," she said, after a busy lunch shift. "But there's only so much two people can do."
Mitchell, who recently returned to the restaurant world after a break to stay home with her children, said she enjoys her days at the cafe. There's plenty of work, she admitted, but there's also a lot to learn.
"You can walk around this place 15 times, and on the 16th time, you'll see something you haven't seen before," she said. "There's a lot of history."
The social element is another bonus.
"I didn't realize how much I enjoyed talking to people," she said as she cleaned the kitchen. "I've learned a lot from people about the building. This was a pretty important place to a lot of people."
The mercantile store was the Wal-Mart of its day, Gonzales said, noting it sold everything from ranching supplies to grocery items. For a while, it even accommodated the post office.
Its biggest pull, however, was as a community gathering place. The business became a place for friends to meet and talk cattle and the day's news or just enjoy one another's company.
"I've had some of the older people here damn near in tears remembering playing washers outside," Gonzales said, noting others venture in to dig through old-school records and land deeds. "I love hearing the stories."
For Rey Villarreal, who works with the Murphy Greer Ranch, the cafe offers a place to get together with friends and family. The food is good, he said, but it's more about the company.
"It's really nice on Sundays when you can stay late," said the rancher, who occupied a table recently with his wife and daughter-in-law. "It's like being at home."
Mitchell Morrissey often ate at the cafe under its previous ownership - his cousin used to run the business - and he said he's glad to see the building in use once again.
Not only is it close to work, said the ranch hand, who works with McFaddin Enterprises, but it's also nice to give back to a local endeavor.
"It's really the only business in McFaddin," he said after placing his order for a patty melt, his favorite of Gonzales' creations. "We like to support it."
Gonzales said the establishment has come a long way already, but the changes aren't over yet.
He said he hopes to obtain a license to sell mixed drinks, for instance, and some have already booked the cafe for private functions. The cafe already serves beer.
A man has even asked to offer up his shoe shine services in one corner of the shop, where antique "his" and "hers" shine stations are already in place.
Whatever happens, Gonzales said, he's happy to know he's made a difference in a place that means so much to so many people.
"I never really thought I'd make money at this," he said of his endeavor. "I'm doing this because I love it."