So I must be on my way/And face another day – George Harrison, “All Things Must Pass”
REFUGIO – Roland and Mary Patino found it hard to face customers Thursday morning, July 3, although most of them had heard the news.
One student who usually ordered one taco ordered two, saying he wanted to remember how good they tasted.
Another customer said he was going to order 100 tacos and freeze them.
Other customers made El Taco Riendo part of their morning routine.
But with more than 25 years in the restaurant business, the couple who has been married 37 years, said they want to retire.
Roland said he will be 67 years old in October. Mary is 63.
“It’s time to retire,” he said.
Eventually, the couple plans to move to Austin.
Roland, who is a 1968-69 Vietnam veteran, said he has a great chance at getting a VA home loan, and he would use that to secure a residence in Austin.
Mary said she has a personal reason for moving to Austin.
“My daughter is going to have her second child. This is my last chapter. I just simply want to be a grandmother,” she said.
“That’s going to be my reward. The baby is coming in November, and it’s going to be a blessing,” she said.
Roland, too, has his personal reasons, in addition to all of their children living in Austin.
He said he is just plain tired of getting up at 1:30 a.m. every morning, going to the cafe and getting everything ready for the day’s business.
“It’s a heavy load. It gets hot, and I want to take care. There’s no AC in the back,” he said.
And that’s where the oven and grill are, and “it gets hotter back there.”
Roland and Mary have lived in Refugio for 16 years. Roland was originally from Woodsboro, Mary from Donna in the Rio Grande Valley.
The couple started in Woodsboro serving plates instead of tacos.
“We were there about two years,” Roland said.
“When they shut down the Country Kitchen, we kept the name and had a little buffet there for three years,” Roland said.
Roland cousin kept telling Roland to go into the taco business.
“He was right. I should have listened to him a long time ago,” Roland said.
Then, the couple started selling tacos from across Alamo street from H-E-B. That lasted about 11 years, which is when the building slipped into bad shape.
“We shut it down and moved here (404 N. Alamo St. in the Refugio Shopping Center). We’ve been here about six years,” Roland said.
The couple said they were very appreciative from the support they got from the oil and gas crews and from other companies.
“They would order 40 tacos at least – the owners and workers,” Mary said.
Mary became a second mom to many of the students who came to El Taco Riendo.
“I had them so spoiled. I knew how they wanted the taco,” she said. Mary has an uncanny memory of each customer’s specifications for his or her taco.
“We had a guy from Canada come back after a long time. I knew what he wanted,” Mary said.
“It was not just a business for me, it was like a relationship. Everybody was so special,” she said.
Roland noted that a man who worked on Gov. Perry’s campaign gave him his business card and was trying to get Roland to do a taco business in Austin.
So that may become a reality once the couple moves.
Mary gives credit to love for their success.
“Love for me is the best medicine. Love conquers everything,” she said.
Meanwhile, the students visited El Taco Riendo like zombies.
No more Bobcats tacos or Eagle tacos, as they were named.
“What are we going to do?” They asked with lost looks on their faces.
Mary said Refugio, Woodsoboro and Austwell-Tivoli kids loved to come in the restaurant and have tacos.
“God is my witness. Some kids didn’t have the money, and I’d say that’s OK,” she said.
Roland said the people of Refugio have been supportive.
“We are very grateful to this town,” he said.
He added that customers would come from all over, including Houston, the Valley, Corpus Christi, Austin and Mexico.
“They’d first come to us, and then they always came back,” he said.
“That made us feel really good.