For my October 2019 gratitude post, I want to express my heartfelt appreciation to every person who has ever dined at one of our restaurants over the last 26 years. Anytime I drive through one of our parking lots full of cars, or walk through our kitchens and see all the food being prepared during a busy shift, I cannot help but be overcome with gratitude. You, the customer, are the only reason why we exist. You have given our company a real sense of purpose beyond simply making a profit. Without your support, we are nothing more than a collection of empty buildings.    

Many of you already know the story of how Gringo’s Tex-Mex got started, but allow me to share some of it again for those who are not familiar with it. As many times as I’ve told this story, I never get tired of repeating it simply because I never want to forget it. It was on January 11, 1993, at 11 am that I walked from the kitchen to the dining room to pull the string on the neon “open” sign for the very first time and officially open the first Gringo’s Mexican Kitchen in Pearland, Texas. As I stood in front of the dining room window facing the empty parking lot, I waited patiently for that very first car to pull in and give our food a try, and I had good reason to hope one would. In 1981 our family opened an El Toro Restaurant in this building and closed it six years later. As a matter of fact, besides El Toro closing down, this building had already been home to three other failed restaurants, first as Gregory’s Steakhouse, then as Old Galveston Seafood Restaurant, and finally as Mangefico’s Italian Restaurant. Truth be told, I did not want to open this restaurant but felt I had no other choice. Since our family still owned the property, we had a monthly obligation to Pearland State Bank in the amount of $4,852.10, an extremely difficult payment to make during that time, especially since it was just sitting there empty. My father attempted to sell the property, listing it with a local commercial real estate broker, but was unsuccessful in finding another restaurateur willing to take the risk in that building. To be quite honest with you, I didn’t blame them at all.

Russell Ybarra turning on the “Open” Sign at Pearland “The Original” on the 25th Anniversary

When the first car pulled into the parking lot to dine with us, there was a real feeling of appreciation that came over me, one that is difficult to describe in words. Up to this point in my life, I had failed at almost everything I attempted, and opening this restaurant was probably going to be the next one on my long list of failures. The difference this time was that I had a paradigm shift in that I was no longer going to focus on making money, but instead, I was going to focus on making the very best product I knew how to make and offer it at the absolute best price possible. After all, I had nothing else to fall back on. I was a terrible student in school and after graduating from high school, if you want to call it that college was not even a consideration. To add to my lack of education, I got married at 18 years old, had two children by the time I was 25, lost my first house to foreclosure at 26, and at age 27 I returned a 1984 Ford Bronco to the dealership where I had purchased it because I could no longer afford the $420.91 payment. I’m not sure why, but I can always remember the amounts that were difficult to make. I failed at selling sports cars. I sold satellite dishes and failed at that too. I even opened a Mexican restaurant on Nasa Rd 1 in the old Eberado’s location in 1989, and it too failed. Not to mention, the last two El Toro restaurants our family had opened, one located on I-10 @ Mercury Dr. in Houston and the other here in Pearland, in the building I was about to attempt to open, one more time, under the new name Gringo’s Mexican Kitchen, had also failed.<