For Don Pablitos, the sauce may be boss but this boss has a new, um “office.”
After Fiesta Tacos closed in December, leaving loyal customers in the dark, the chile sauce company settled into the vacant spot as its first brick and mortar.
Don Pablitos got its start in the late eighties, early nineties and still competes yearly in Austin at the biggest hot sauce festival in the state.
“Almost every other year we’re in the top five or have an honorable mention,” said Trey Perez, the part owner, executive chef, general manager of Don Pablitos.
The company has been doing festivals since its inception and was once listed as one of the top things to try in Houston. From there the company spring boarded into food starting out with taco stands, but the location at 4620 West 34th Street is the first time roots were put down.
“The opportunity came up [to lease the property], I’ve heard stories about Fiesta Tacos and I think they’ve set the bar high because people have been coming here a long time and they’ll come in and tell me stories,” said Perez.
Perez mentioned that although many customers have told him about Fiesta Tacos, he’s not sure what happened to make them close the doors. And after hearing so many different stories about what happened to Fiesta Tacos, he thought the best thing to do was to have the place blessed. He had a priest from St. Jerome’s do the blessing, which many customers appreciated.
As a new restaurant on the block, Perez is thankful for the encouragement from the returning customers. Many people from other local businesses have become regulars as well.
The owners of Don Pablitos acquired the lease in January and their target open date was somewhere in the middle of February. That was before they realized how much work they had ahead of them.
“When we got started in here there was no staff, so we came in and we were like we’ve got to fix this place up and so we spent the first two months doing repairs,” said Perez, “The heavy rains from Hurricane Harvey had destroyed the roof, we pretty much had to start all over there. We would fix a roof leak and another would pop up.”
To gain employees Perez put signs in the windows indicating they were hiring. Little by little much of the staff that worked at Fiesta Tacos came back, with 60 percent on staff from the previous occupant.
Don Pablitos is still getting a few things ready, like a sign to indicate that its open.
“People don’t know we’re here yet, even yesterday we had people drive up and say, ‘I didn’t know y’all were open, I just saw the cars’,” said Perez.
Perez doesn’t mind the confusion and jokes it off, “Word is getting out that we’re here, they just think we’re Fiesta Tacos. No, we got a new floor man! We don’t have a new sign, but we got a new floor!”
As for the food they bring in special select cuts of meat that they use for their popular fajita and barbacoa tacos along with fresh fruits to cook and render for the fillings of the empanadas. The empanadas are all hand made fresh every morning with a recipe that gives the bread a flakier and pie-like crust, opposed to typical Mexican empanadas which are solid breads.
“[Empanadas are] starting to take off, customers come in buying half a dozen all the time. They come in pineapple, apple, strawberry,” said Perez.
Don Pablitos tamales are also growing in popularity. They are hand made fresh every morning as well. They use tried and true recipes that have customers buying them by the dozen.
Perez is already familiar with the area and with the neighborhood in a transition because of the new houses being built, the restaurant’s first priority is staying family friendly.
For the families with young kids they offer kid friendly menu options and always make sure to stock Tru Moo Chocolate Milk, which sells out by 10 a.m. on weekends.
“We’re in talks about opening up the other side. There’s a drive-thru area that never opened, so there’s a section of the restaurant that never got built or developed. But there are three walk-up windows on it so we’re in the process of designing a flat outdoor patio,” said Perez, “This place has been a big staple for this location, for this area for a long long time, so we’re just hoping to keep that up or just reach that bar.”
Don Pablitos celebrated its grand opening on March 10 and is now open Tuesday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., and on Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.