Ever savored the aroma of sizzling fajitas arriving at your table or enjoyed digging into a platter of cheesy nachos? Are you aware that these, and many of our other favorite Tex Mex dishes, originated at a famed restaurant in the Dallas area?
A fascinating documentary on the culinary odyssey of Cuellar family and their famed El Chico restaurants will be featured at the Allen Public Library at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 22. Following this, John and Gilbert Jr. Cuellar and Carmen Summers will be on hand to share more family tales and answer questions from the audience. This is your opportunity to learn more about state treasures like tamales, guacamole, salsa and enchilada.
In 1913, the Cuellar family picked cotton and worked as cow hands on a Kaufman, Texas, ranch. In the 1920s, Mama Cuellar, a mother of 12 who needed additional income, set up a booth at the Kaufman County Fair to sell her delectable dishes. She earned more money during that weekend than the family had earned for the entire year. Not long after, she opened a café in Kaufman.
In 1940, the Cuellar Brothers moved to Dallas to open an El Chico restaurant in the Oak Lawn area. By 1950, five restaurants were thriving. Then in 1961, another was added to the fold when Angus Wynne Jr. opened the Six Flags Amusement Park in Arlington and invited them to open a restaurant in the Mexico section. Long lines began forming for this popular cuisine, and hundreds of thousands of gringo customers were introduced to Tex-Mex. By 1968, a publicly held corporation was created. Mama’s grandson John Cuellar notes, “That is when I knew we made it big time.”
That same year, the former American movie actress Princess Grace of Monaco threw a party to celebrate her country’s centennial anniversary. She wanted to feature an international cuisine and invited the Cuellars to serve Tex Mex food. In 1971, Gilbert Cuellar Jr. introduced fajitas to the Dallas market and these soon became a favorite of Ronald Reagan. In the 1980s, then-President Reagan invited the Cuellars to serve a major White House event.
In one generation, the Cuellar’s moved from the Texas cotton fields to a royal palace to the White House. Mama’s granddaughter Carmen Summers observes, “Our success is attributed to hard work and our family working together as a cohesive unit.” John Cuellar laughs, “Dallas is the origin of the semiconductor chip and taco chip.”
The library is located at 300 N. Allen Dr. Call 214.509.4911 for more information.