Popular restaurant battles back from Harvey
Oct. 22, 2017 at 9:06 p.m.
Updated Oct. 23, 2017 at 9 p.m.
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."
Day 1: Here comes Harvey
Day 2: Brace yourself
Day 3: 'Prayers protect us'
Day 5: 'At least God let us live'
Day 6: 'It's the luck of the draw'
Day 10: The Long Road Ahead (w/video)
Day 12: For some, normal still far away
Day 15: FEMA frustrates Harvey victims
Day 16: Displaced and in disarray
Day 18: Nature interrupted (w/video)
Day 19: 'It was like we had been bombed'
Day 42: 'Harvey broke me'
Day 55: Special delivery