As Mi Madres Turns 25, Rosa and Aurelio Torres Recall the Birth of an East Austin Icon

(Cross-posted from the February 2015 Flea)

Jennifer: What inspired you to launch in 1990?

Aurelio: The economy was bad. Downtown was a shambles. So we decided that we wanted to open a restaurant but we didn’t have a lot of means. But we had a ton of passion! So we opened a place at MLK and Comal, and it was called El Comal. We had some partners and after three months they were gone. They were never to be seen again.

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Anyways, I saw a small ad [for a new location] in the paper. It was on the East side, and nobody wanted to come here. There were lots of problems, lots of gang activity. But it was close to UT.

We came in and the lady said, “I want $40,000 right now.” I had $500 in my pocket, and I owed it to somebody else! … Finally, I said to her, “Every week I’m going to give you $500. If one week I don’t comply with that, you can take it away from me and you don’t owe me one red cent. At that time this place was making $50 a day. So that was $250 minus inventory and expenses. It was me and my wife and one helper, our son. I had a chart that I made and I would look at it and say “what if one day I made $1,000? Wow, it’s going to be awesome!” And I kept dreaming. Because when you don’t have money, you dream. We had young kids, we had to pay the rent and all of that. And I said “Never mind, at least we can eat here.”

But every week, from week 1, I religiously paid $500. When you are congruent with what you want, with the passion that you provide, someone up there will provide. And they would come in the morning and hang that’s what happened. That was the begin- ning of Mi Madre’s.

Jennifer: How did you develop the menu?

Aurelio: We went to Taco Cabana and they had these liiiiittle bitty tacos like this, and I said “we can do better than that!”

Jennifer: Did you serve just breakfast initially?

Rosa: No just breakfast, until 2 p.m.

Aurelio: Monday through Friday.

Jennifer: No weekend tacos? How did people survive?!

Aurelio: One day we decided let’s come in on Saturday to clean the place. And we can sell if people come, but we’ll be cleaning. Then people started noticing and suddenly it was the busiest day of the week.

Jennifer: What about the gangs?

Aurelio: It was really hard in the beginning, because there were so many gangs. People would get hurt and come in bleeding.

Rosa: There were a lot of prostitutes, and they would come in the morning and hang out. I even knew their nicknames. I would come out and say, “This is my corner, I have to work here, so you have to go.” Two or three times the police took some of them.

Jennifer: When did you stop seeing that?

Rosa: About three years after we opened. We started attracting a lot of police here, and to this day they still come early in the morning. So they know we have police here and hopefully they don’t come back. The neighborhood’s changed a lot.

Aurelio: We saw the young mothers with their baby strollers, and I said, “Wow, this is bliss.” It means you are safe, you are enjoying the neighborhood, and it says we belong. We live here in the neighborhood because we believe in it, and wanted to be part of the change, and have lights on this corner. We made sure there is something happening for people to gather, get their friends together, and enjoy a nice meal. Those simple things. The emotional attachment of being in a place that they enjoy, where they are safe.

Mi Madre’s will be celebrating their 25th anniversary 12-8 p.m. on April 11. Visit their website of follow them on Facebook for details. They’ve also recently some great regular events, including a Lotería on the third Thursday of the month, Salsa Night on the fourth Saturday of the month, and more.

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