Joe T. Garcia's Mexican Restaurant Interview Part Three

  • [BEGIN PART 3] 00:00:00 [Lanny is taking interviewers on a tour of the office and the restaurant] LL: Course this was just an old apa-an old apartment a long time ago- KR: -I'm sorry, I'm gonna stand here and record you- LL: -and my grandad, uh, actually uh- KR: -for posterity- LL: -rented it-[Laughs and smiles, like he's got a great idea for a joke] well wait a minute, you wanna turn it off for just one second- KR: [Laughs]. Yeah hold on-[Recorder still running, LL changes his mind]. LL: Well really it was-whoo! [LL, KR, SS laugh]. No, we won't talk about that. Anyway I used to live here. KR: Did you? LL: I did. KR: In this one. LL: In this one right here. Course this was just the rear-we'll walk over [Laughs] over to this one. [We follow Lanny out of the office, down the hall and down a short flight of steps to a locked door]. and let's see, and this was just the roof too, but my-my bedroom was actually right over here to the left, we're going to walk in over here to the left-[Lanny opens the door into a small, light green office with an old 1960s desk, file cabinets on one wall and dozens of framed photographs covering another] and this was actually one of our back rooms, was where I grew up as a teenager. And so these are some of the pictures here, right over here. So- KR: Oh, awesome. LL: Ah, have I been here a long time? That's the kitchen, that's the original kitchen. KR: Is that you? LL: Yeah that's me. KR: You were so cute! LL: That's [Unintelligible], that's my grandfather, and that's actually where the pool was over there KR: Uh huh LL: and ah, this is right there where the pool is too, where my grandfather-where my dad graduated from TCU. And that was the store across the street- KR: Mmhmm LL: - that he had, this was the back dining room and one of his political parties that he had back there with uh, the governor- KR: Mmhmm LL: And uh I was really fired up on a family trip one time, but, [Laughs] yes. Are they over yet? And of course, my grandfather again, always with-yes, he was very political, very uh, you know, with the servicemen and everything else, and my-this was back here where the area is back here where he had all his chickens, and this was actually where the bird came from. That was actually Gregory, where, you know, where I always have the bird, the emblem of the bird? Well Gregory was actually his bird, his talking bird, he ah-he loved women but hated men. Yeah. KR: Interesting. LL: Very. [LL and KR laugh]. And finally, ah, yeah he passed away, and then ah, let's see this is still the side of the restaurant over here too, and that's still the sign, the original sign over there, and my dad over there, that's right across the street if you look at the parking lot over there. That's my mother and my aunt over there, front dining room over here, [Unintelligible], and my grandmother again, and my-the side of the-that's still there too, the side of the restaurant, so, you know, it's just all the, all the little pictures from-and this is just a fraction of it. KR: Who's this? LL: That's my grandad. KR: Really? He was an attractive man. LL: Yeah. And so uh, this is just a few of the pictures that- KR: [Pointing at a small book in a glass box frame]. What is that? LL: That was actually his little journal. KR: It's got uh-his little journal for what? What is that? LL: -Yeah, his little journal. For uh- KR: -It's got all the money- LL: -for the money, yeah, for the day, yeah. That's what he kept his- KR: -Oh! Like for the closing till- LL: -Uh huh, exactly, uh huh. So that was him, that's in his writing and everything else. And he had barbecue, so, uh, this was his saw. Sherri Sheu (SS): Oh wow! LL: So this is what he'd use as a saw, and of course he always was a handyman so he did all this stuff so, I kept this also here too. So that, and that was the sign-and this was actually the sign that was there forever, I just finally took it down, it fell down. People always ask what it means to me, and what it actually means was that at that time, the two daughters, Mary and Hope, were waiting on tables and everything else. Well, dinners were made by our grandmother and very slowly, you know, sometimes it took an hour to get a dinner out there, because everything was made fresh and everything else. So sometimes people would start complaining, and stuff like that. Well, he didn't like people complaining about his daughters, so he put this sign up there [LL and KR laugh] going well, if you don't like the service, fine. If it's about the food let me know, but if it's about my daughters, don't you say a word [Laughs]. So that's always been out there, and that was out there forever out there. So and like I said, this is just a portion of the little things that were out there. At my house I mean I have just tons of these things out there. KR: How did you end up with all the memorabilia? Just by default? LL: I stole them all. Yeah, before my mother- KR: [Laughs]. LL: -and my aunt, my aunt and my mother both gave me a lot of them, of course they had a lot of them. So ah, there's a lot of pictures of all, of all the family and stuff like that. KR: Very cool. And you have a lot of Dia de los Muertos stuff around too, yeah? LL: Oh yes, as you can tell, there's all this-no, that's not nobody from the family so that's fine. [KR and SS laugh]. This is actually my son and me, though- KR: Oh, where'd you guys go? LL: Uh, we're in Canada, we're rock climbing out there. KR: You do take vacations. LL: Ah, he got married. KR: Ohhhh. LL: So that was-on the day of the thing we're rock climbing, you know, we're going up there and rock climbing. And the day that he got married, actually, we went up there, [Unintelligible] skiing up top, on the day of his wedding. [KR and SS laugh]. So yeah, so if I get a chance, when I get out, I get a little crazy. [Everyone laughs]. We'll be right back down. SS: Are there any old ads or anything? LL: You know what? I wish I could show you, and I think I took it to the house. I kept a lot of the old phone books and stuff like that, but um- KR: All the old what? LL: Phonebooks? KR: Phonebooks? LL: Mmhmm. KR: What do you mean? LL: Old phonebooks. KR: Why? SS: They have ads in them. LL: Yeah, they have ads and things- KR: Sorry! LL: And you are in- KR: [Laughs]. LL: No, just joking! KR: That's why they have me do the questions-[Laughs]. LL: Yeah, and uh, that was about the only thing we had for advertising back in the old days. They were the white pages, they were all white in those days. But, um, and I don't have them here, because I kept all the ones at the house, all the things. KR: That's cool. Can we go down-you want to go downstairs? LL: Sure, let's go downstairs. KR: I know you've got-I know you have so much time- LL: Mmhmm [Unintelligible]. 05:00 [Lanny leads us out of the office; we stop on the landing before heading downstairs and through the main office]. KR: Who are all these guys? LL: Ah just got [Unintelligible] when I used to like to go to Mexico, when I do take off I do go to Mexico, I go south-except lately, mmm, not now. But ah-I always collect stuff from over there. KR: Weird. LL: Yes, it is. SS: Are these from Oaxaca? LL: Uh those are-of course. They sure are. Mmhmm. Exactly from Oaxaca, yeah. Those in fact a lot of those are probably 42 years old, because I remember when we first got married me and Jodi went to Oaxaca and we bought a lot of those things out there. My whole house is just full of them. [We head downstairs]. LL: [Talks with folks in the office who need him to sign things before he leaves for the day]. [We head outside]. LL: So let's go, let's talk about- KR: Wait, hold on, what's up with the birds? Lanny! What's up with the birds? LL: Okay. The birds are actually here because my office is upstairs, right? And so, I usually get here early in the morning, you know, 5:30, six, and I just love the way they coo in the mornings, you know? So when there's nobody here and it's quiet and everything else and you hear the cooness of the thing it's just very tranquil, very peaceful. It's either that or roosters, so I figured I'd go with it. KR: Hah! LL: I thought I'd go with it. KR: Is everyone going to make fun of you for the rest of the day for me walking around after you with a microphone? LL: Of course you can. [LL and KR laugh]. NOT. We're going to have to all go to yoga together, that's how it's going to have to be. SS: So you were talking about going back to Mexico? KR and LL: Not back to Mexico- SS: Not back, sorry, going back and forth- LL: Back and forth, back and forth, yeah. A long time ago when it was smaller, you know, when we first got married and everything else, yeah we'd always take like a three day-it's always three day trips and it's always Monday Tuesday and Wednesday, never during the weekends or nothing like that. But yeah, we'd run down there. I love Mexico, you know, and that's where I got all the ideas from stuff in Mexico City, Oaxaca, all over. And then me and my son are big adventurers, so we'll go down to the borders in Chiapas and Guatemala and hike and go down and things. SS: Chiapas is beautiful. LL: Chiapas is gorgeous! Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous. SS: The mountains! LL: Isn't it? Oh my god we went down-that's one of my most favorite places in Mexico. I mean, just to go roughing it and stuff like that. It really is gorgeous. SS: Has that inspired-has visiting Mexico inspired some of the food choices for your son? LL: Yeah, in fact that's what he does-I think it inspired him quite a bit. It really does. And like I said, we don't have that much time to spend together, and so usually when we do, we'll hike all day long, and then-we'll just stay up all night long just discussing different things all day long. I mean, it's just the only time we get together, so when we do have a little time together, it's nonstop, we really bond, you know, because we don't see each other hardly any, at all. But anyway, that there, that's where the original place was, and here's actually where that building was that I showed you where my grand- my dad was graduated, and that's where I was born, actually, right there. KR: Really? LL: On this thing. So I was started off here-[SS and KR laugh]. Yeah, started off there. And then I moved-actually, there was another building over here which we called the pink house, and that's actually those two rooms over there, and that was actually where I would spend, like, ah, say, ten, eleven, twelve, and then my teenage years were over there, so, get away from everybody. [Laughs]. Obviously. SS: So is this the pool that Joe was talking about? LL: Yeah, well that's not actually a pool anymore. That was the pool a long time ago, and then I put it-I made it into a fountain about three years ago. I got a little bored, and I fell in love with this little horse trough I'd seen in Mexico one time, so I said you know what? I like that horse trough. So that's actually a horse trough [LL, SS and KR laugh]. Yeah, it actually is. I didn't tell anybody that, but anyway. [Laughs]. Unless a horse comes in one day and starts drinking water and going oh, I guess it is a horse trough. So anyway, let's go back this way. KR: Awesome. 09:00 [We walk past the fountain and into one of two covered outdoor dining halls]. LL: So all this-from here on back, it was all, uh, A-frame houses. And it's where a lot of my aunts lived, because my grandad had bought all these little A-frame houses for the family. So this was just an old neighborhood, and they all lived there with their families. Polyphena lived here, Aunt Mary lived here, and Ralph, my uncle Ralph lived here. So there was a lot of-you know, all the families lived out here. Go right ahead. And then in the, I guess- KR: Isn't this pretty! LL: So after they all moved out in the fifties, I guess, and then it just stayed all vacant. And then in the seventies, I guess, when I decided to go ahead and just level everything down, and just left it into an empty lot. And then one day I was just-like Joe said, I just kind of visualize things. And I was standing at the back of the door, and I kind of looked back there, and I'm saying that walkway, that looks like-and it wasn't really a walkway, it was just the way, it was a path-and I said that looks like a patio thing or something like that. And so I just visualized, so I'd come out here at nighttime and just sit down, and, um [Makes a gesture for smoking with one hand, all laugh] and just kind of study things around, you know [Points at the mic]. I know how to get around that-and, uh, then I just turned it into a patio. So I kind of pieced it up, little by little, kind of real eclectic, you know, a little piece of this, you know, of something I'd seen in Mexico, or either Moralia or Guadalajara or something like that. Like I say, it's real real eclectic, so that's why it's everything that-but it still flows really nice but it's still really eclectic. KR: This would be a nice space for weddings and formal stuff back here, yeah? LL: [Talks to a few construction workers in Spanish as we walk through to the back patio]. KR: Jesus. Do you have any idea what the square footage is? LL: Uh-uh. Nope. KR: It's huge! LL: And then of course it goes all the way back here, and we have-we actually had built this patio for weddings and rehearsals and stuff like that, but the demand was so big for the patio that actually I almost had to stop taking the reservations for the big parties because it fills up with public, you know. KR: Oh wow. LL: So now it's very very limited reservations for when I actually book the whole thing out, and I usually only do that when I know them real well [Rubs thumb and two fingers together, making the sign for money-KR and LL laugh], and ah, that's about it. KR: Well it's really pretty. LL: But anyway, this is as far as I go, and I don't know what you all want to know. I'm thinking of actually building me a rooftop garden up here on top of here KR: Yeah? LL: Yeah. I've already got all the stuff, so maybe by next year I'll have my little rooftop garden to hide up there on top of. And I also have thought about an underground little place too-I was in Mexico one time and we went down to this little cave [unintelligible] for a table like for ten or twelve, so I'm thinking about that too. Also we have these buildings over here, there's a big building over there and a big building over here, and they're both 18,000 square feet. That was an original Ford Building, and that was an original Chevrolet building back in the twenties, and uh, I, you know, maybe some-I was thinking about doing a gallery kind of thing. You know, because I like art, obviously. And to do something along that line, I'd rent that out for parties also. We actually cleaned it up and set it up for a little party-I had actually my little Buddha Bar over there, it's just a little small thing, but-[LL and SS laugh]. SS: Sounds like the restaurant business has become a really good outlet for your artwork. LL: It's very-yeah, it's all fun. And that's the whole thing: it's not work, it's not like-you know, to me, it's fun every day. I mean, I don't know what'd I'd do without it, I really really don't. I mean, is it headaches? Yes. Is it pain? Yes. But what isn't, you know? I mean it's all, you know, we all have to deal with it, and it's all the way we perceive things, you know? Just sometimes we perceive them in-crazy ways [Laughs]. But anyway-this is just the end of it over there, and then of course it's all been fun. And like I said, I love gardening, so I'm getting ready for the springtime, getting ready to get all the plants-we have two huge greenhouses on the back of this wall, and that's where I keep a lot of the tropicals and stuff like that. It's almost like ah-I have a crew that comes in, and in three days we'll just plant everything in the whole patio. I mean, we'll have palm trees, we'll have lemon plants, I mean you'll come in on a Monday you'll come back in on Thursday and you won't even recognize the place, it's totally different. So it's a fun three days, we get dirty and muddy and it's fun. It's a lot of fun especially when it's raining. [It has started to drizzle]. KR: Exactly. I wasn't going to say it. LL: I didn't think you would [Laughs]. Well good. At least what I'm saying is getting through, right? Ah, you girls. I have to say. [Opens the door and lets us back inside. As we pass through the dining halls, he jokes with the construction workers again]. He asked me about that job and I said "it's not through yet? What are you waiting for?" Which is a good question. What are they waiting for? They didn't see me today, that's what it was. "By the way, do we still have to work today?" [LL and KR laugh]. Yes. KR: Just tell them you were out there giving very important interviews. LL: Yes, exactly. 14:00 [We walk back through the patio and stop by the fountain again]. LL: Just for-my mother had actually thought about just, for something for the kids, actually. It's actually gonna be like their - our backyard. I want to say their backyard because I wasn't really into backyards. But anyway, I kind of - when she started talking about that, I said 'well, you know what? Why don't we just turn this into you know, seating-something like that.' So this was going to be for us at first, but then it turned into something a little different, and then it just expanded and expanded. And everybody thought I was crazy for actually doing this because, you know, it was Texas, and it gets hot in the summertime. You know, and you are-instead of being indoors, it's, you know, what are you doing with a patio? And in the seventies it was kind of, well, I don't think there was any patios in the seventies, really. You know- KR: Everybody was still stuck inside? LL: Everybody was stuck inside, so yeah. And then, but it's a-it worked out. It worked out [Laughs]. KR: Sounds like it. LL: Come on inside and we'll show you this. KR: Awesome. 15:14 [We follow Lanny inside the restaurant, through the main dining room, where Lanny shakes hands and stops to talk with a few servers, and we stop in a small dining room in the center of the larger space]. LL: Well in the beginning, it was-the only part that was open was actually this square piece back here, which was this right here, that's the picture of what this looked like a long time ago. KR: Oh my goodness! LL: And that was all. And then over here was actually outside. And that was actually another building up there on top, another house. And that was over there-on the other side of that, actually, was my grandmother's bedroom. [Gestures to the dining room adjacent to the one we're standing in, which runs next to the kitchen]. So we would sleep down there, and I would get-of course, no air conditioning, so I'd get kind of hot, so I would usually get some of the tabletops like this at the end of the night, and when you think about it-but anyway, dirty ones, and then I'd sleep right here on the floor right here. Yeah. But of course at that time it felt good, but uh, I don't know if it would feel good now [Laughs]. It did feel good then! [We follow Lanny through a narrow doorway into a small dark room leading into the kitchen that is dominated by a massive concrete and brick barbecue pit]. LL: This was my grandad's barbecue pit when he did barbecue. This was actually outside, so this-so I kind of always kept this here because I wanted to keep a kind of a good luck piece for the restaurant here, and this was his barbecue pit. And this was like in-that was open, and this was kind of like for, actually when he had some of his chickens a long long time ago. So-and he put this roof up here and I've always left this here, you know, things that I could have left that he built, you know, I kind of leave here just for sentimental reasons and stuff like that. [We step into the kitchen]. The kitchen has always been the same, you know, never-in fact, the stove, which I've pieced apart, you know, since the thirties, ah, is still the original stove. Yeah, and so I just fix it up, kind of put things in it, but I mean it's-because everybody wants to come and say well you need this high-powered stove, I say no, that's- that'll be there. And I mean, it's literally rotten apart almost, but it's going to stay there forever. You know, I just-yeah, until it does fall apart. And it's been there eighty years. And this is the window that I was talking about. That was my grandmother's window. And I still left that-it's the original window. So the register was actually right over there. It still is. And you can, so she was always either here rolling enchiladas and looking straight ahead-at the money. So. That's what I think about that. [We follow Lanny a little further into the kitchen, just enough so that we can see that it extends and wraps in an L shape around the front corner of the dining room]. LL: This was actually the extent of the whole restaurant a long time ago, it was from here on back. Which, if you think about it, the kitchen size is the same. So we do this-of course, we have three kitchens now, we have one here, one here, and one back in the back- KR: Okay, I was about to say- LL: But this pretty much stays the same. [Points down at one of the metal tables running the length of the kitchen]. This was the original part, and it's uh, finally just didn't get rid of 'til this year, finally the wood finally just couldn't hang it on there. But that was the original thing and I left some original pieces, they're still, where it's rotted out, but I still left whatever I could, you know, in here. And uh, so, this has been, this has been home for all these years. KR: [Pointing to a small altar with candles high up in the kitchen wall] You've got candles up there? LL: Well of course. KR: Why? LL: Eh, my grandmother would always light candles in the mornings, she was very religious. You know. And she always said, first sale, she always made the sign of the cross. And I've always kind of, um, well, she taught me everything I know. I do it just automatically, you know? When I can reach them, sometimes. So I do keep-I do keep a lot of things, she's still here in my heart every day, and something that I do, whether knowingly or not knowingly, I mean I still do things that she taught me from the very beginning. I mean, I used to sleep under the table. I mean yeah, I mean my bassinette was there, and I would sleep under there. Of course, at that time there wasn't that many people here because there was only three or four people who was our family, but I would sleep here until we went to bed, and then we'd go on to bed. And our bedroom was actually right back over here. [Greets an employee]. And that's about it. SS: How many people work in the kitchen? LL: About like right here, in this kitchen right here, which is just the lunch run, right in this kitchen here we got sixteen, working in the kitchen right now. That's just the-not-you know. Of course, we'll double all up at nighttime. And we'll go right here to the front- 19:11 [We follow Lanny out of the kitchen and through a narrow passageway into the space behind the counter in the front lobby; he gives high fives and greets employees along the way]. LL: And this is the original icebox too, it's been here forever. The only things that's changed is that I've added the, you know, I've changed the top of the thing on it. And this has been there forever. KR: It's still got the old Coke bottle openers- LL: Yeah, these right here? The old Coke things right there? And there are some pictures over here on this side over here. That's the original too, the register first sat up there. Oh, in fact I should have shown you the register. The register's upstairs- KR: The register's upstairs? LL: Yeah, where Leah was. Where Leah's at, the original register's up there. KR: Yeah, we'd like to get a picture of that. LL: And this is my sister Zurrela- ZL: Hi, how are y'all? KR & SS: Pretty good, how are you? ZL: I'm doing alright, thank you. Is this for school, or- LL: Ah, for a restaurant magazine, I think-I think? [END OF PART 3] 20:22