Luis Hermosillo and Carlos Garcia were fixtures at Don Jose Mexican Restaurant for more than 40 years. Hermosillo started as a bus boy in 1974 and worked his way up to owner of the business at 5305 Antoine Dr., while his nephew Garcia came aboard a few years later and eventually became general manager.
In the span of a few days earlier this month, the family restaurant and the community it serves said goodbye to both men.
Hermosillo’s niece, Judy Maldonado, who also works at Don Jose, said he and Garcia both fell victim to complications from COVID-19. Garcia died Aug. 9 at age 61. Hermosillo died three days later at age 73.
“We still can’t believe it,” Maldonado said. “It just feels like it’s a bad nightmare.”
The deaths of Hermosillo and Garcia is not just a devastating blow to their family, but also their extended Don Jose family. Hermosillo bought the restaurant in the early 2000s from EJ Clark, the original owner.
Clark’s daughter, Martha Lazdins, who worked at Don Jose for 29 years, said they became close with Hermosillo, Garcia and their relatives, at least 10 of whom have worked for the business.
“It’s awful for all of us,” Lazdins said. “We all love each other.”
Maldonado said Hermosillo and Garcia both grew up in Tizapan El Alto, a town in the Mexican state of Jalisco, and realized the American dream in Houston. Lazdins said Hermosillo walked all the way to the Bayou City after crossing the border near Brownsville and was sleeping in the hallway of a downtown building when her father offered him a job.
Hermosillo then started spending his nights at the restaurant until he could afford his own place, according to Lazdins, and he proved himself first as a busser, then as a member of the kitchen staff and later as a waiter. Over the years, several of his family members joined Hermosillo as restaurant employees.
“His family knew the business,” Lazdins said. “When you find a good family, you kind of like to hire in that family.”
Lazdins said she signed paperwork in 1988 that granted amnesty to Hermosillo and Garcia as part of the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which President Ronald Reagan signed into law in 1986.
Maldonado said working at the restaurant and serving the residents of Northwest Houston was “their entire life” along with their means for supporting their family. Garcia is survived by a wife, seven children and several grandchildren.
Along with being a dedicated restaurant owner, Maldonado said Hermosillo also was passionate about soccer. He had played the sport when he was younger, liked to watch matches on the TV at Don Jose and even had the logo of his favorite team, Las Chivas de Guadalajara, painted in the back of the restaurant.
Maldonado said Hermosillo also supported the youth team in his hometown, sending money for uniforms and equipment.
“If he didn’t work here, I think he would have been a coach,” Maldonado said. “That’s how much he liked it.”
Don Jose has remained opened despite the deaths of its longtime leaders, although Maldonado said it has been difficult without their presence. She asked customers to continue supporting the restaurant and sharing their memories of Hermosillo and Garcia.
Maldonado said the family is in the process of determining legal ownership of the business in light of their unexpected, relatively sudden deaths.
“If we can, we’ll definitely keep it going,” she said. “I know they would have wanted that.”
Maldonado said a joint memorial service for Hermosillo and Garcia will be held from 4-8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 25 at Del Pueblo Funeral Home at 8222 Antoine Dr. Members of the public are welcome from 6-8 p.m., and social distancing and mask-wearing will be required.