Popular restaurant battles back from Harvey

Kathryn Cargo By Kathryn Cargo

Oct. 22, 2017 at 9:06 p.m.
Updated Oct. 23, 2017 at 9 p.m.

Alejandro Arteaga mixes drywall mud while repairing the Vera Cruz restaurant.

Alejandro Arteaga mixes drywall mud while repairing the Vera Cruz restaurant.   Angela Piazza for The Victoria Advocate

Lee Caballero and his mother-in-law, Minerva Bennet, gathered about $60,000 together from their savings and a loan to pay their employees while Vera Cruz remained closed.

The restaurant at 3110 N. Navarro St. will open in about two or three weeks after repairs are done. Hurricane Harvey substantially damaged the restaurant by lifting the roof and placing it halfway down the building, shattering a wall and windows and ruining about $15,000 of equipment inside.

"It just shocked me when I saw this," Caballero said. "My first thought was how quickly we could clean it up and get back in business because I was worried about my employees' wages."

Total damages and repairs will cost more than $300,000, said Caballero, general manager. The Sunday after Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast, Caballero had a company cover the building with tarp to prevent more water from coming in. First, construction crews repaired the roof, as well as the kitchen wall, which was half missing.

"I was devastated when I saw the inside - how everything was, how the roof had caved in and how wet everything was," Caballero said.

He has 24 employees, and the restaurant's insurance company will reimburse Caballero and Bennett for paying their employees early. He said five to six weeks was too long for his employees to wait.

"My employees get paid every week," he said. "A lot of them live week to week. Missing two or three pay checks without getting paid is too hard on somebody. They have been with me for so many years. I would hate that they wouldn't be able to pay their bills."

Doug Wuest, 60, has been going to Vera Cruz for more than 30 years and had his wedding rehearsal dinner there soon after he began going. The food is great, and Lee Caballero and his wife, Ida Caballero are longtime friends of his, he said.

Wuest owns two businesses, OWI Sales and Jak's Machine. Wuest throws both companies a joint Christmas party at Vera Cruz every year and plans to do so this year.

"I have a standing order so when they call me, I can go in and get some food," he said.

The Caballeros and Bennett treat their customers and employees like family, Wuest said. Paying their employees before the insurance funds came in shows how dedicated they are, he said.

"They think highly of their employees," he said. "During this difficult time, to make sure they can survive this tragedy - that goes to show what kind of people they are."

Wuest said he wishes the restaurant success and many more years of service to the community.

"It's fantastic they want to open to service the community," he said. "They're really missed, and they have a fan base that won't quit them. When they open back up, they'll fill their restaurant once again."

Related coverage

Day 1: Here comes Harvey

Day 2: Brace yourself

Day 3: 'Prayers protect us'

Day 4: 'We thought we were going to die'

Day 5: 'At least God let us live'

Day 6: 'It's the luck of the draw'

Day 7: 'Everybody will pull together'

Day 8: Guadalupe floods parts of Victoria

Day 9: Texas Zoo evacuates animals (w/video)

Day 10: The Long Road Ahead (w/video)

Day 11: Residents rely on families to rebuild

Day 12: For some, normal still far away

Day 13: Church offers refuge for devastated town

Day 14: Victims find hardship, opportunity (w/video)

Day 15: FEMA frustrates Harvey victims

Day 16: Displaced and in disarray

Day 17: Disaster for humans means catastrophe for pets

Day 18: Nature interrupted (w/video)

Day 19: 'It was like we had been bombed'

Day 20: Students returning to school feel weight of Harvey

Day 21: International Crane Foundation loses office after hurricane

Day 22: Ranching structures, cotton mostly damaged by Harvey

Day 23: Port Lavaca struggles back after Harvey

Day 24: Refugio: 'We're trying to get back to normal'

Day 25: Nonprofit leaves people lost after Harvey

Day 26: 'We are human beings like everyone else'

Day 27: Refugio schools find way to reopen

Day 28: Bloomington schools begin year in different classroom setups

Day 29: Methodist church serves those in need after hurricane

Day 30: Scientists measure damage to endangered species' habitat (w/video)

Day 31: Medical community feels impact of Harvey

Day 32: Harvey's speed leaves many in harm's way

Day 33: After Harvey, Seadrift couple forced out of home

Day 34: Bloomington Elementary School educates students in FEMA dome

Day 35: School districts share issues with state, US senator

Day 36: VISD students observe See You at the Pole

Day 37: Expectant family struggles after Harvey (w/video)

Day 38: Woodsboro pulls together after Harvey

Day 39: Housing options slim for displaced families

Day 40: SBA approves more than $500M in disaster loans

Day 41: Hunger greater in Crossroads post-Harvey

Day 42: 'Harvey broke me'

Day 44: Goliad baby born as hurricane swirled toward Crossroads

Day 45: Mother recalls 'scary' birth during Harvey

Day 46: Harvey devastates homeowners without insurance

Day 47: Officials have no details on housing relief

Day 48: Harvey impacts couple's 2 Victoria businesses, Rockport home

Day 49: Crews begin repair work on historic McFaddin church

Day 50: Hurricane, flood force Jaguars to make adjustments

Day 51: Texas Zoo thanks Vickers students for donation

Day 52: Seadrift women helping people affected by hurricane

Day 53: Mold creates big problem for homeowners

Day 54: Crossroads public agencies deal with FEMA challenges

Day 55: Special delivery

Day 56: Texas Gulf Coast mayors discuss Harvey aftermath

Day 57: Tenants sue after Harvey eviction

Day 58: Nonprofit directors face difficult fundraising decision after Harvey

Day 59: VISD applies for waivers to reduce Harvey burden

Day 60: Victoria's relief efforts lacked coordination, leadership

Helpful information

Where to get water, gas and other supplies

Helpful information after the storm

Updates on city services

Additional coverage

Vulnerable residents struggled to flee Harvey

Indianola Fishing Marina opens after Harvey

Harvey drives up demand for Crossroads hotels

Loans available for businesses, homeowners, small nonprofits

Night Ranger to perform at benefit concert


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