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Family Values Threaded
Through the Generations...
by Kat Rowoldt
Pictured: Francisco "Paco" Diaz and his wife, Juanita, along with Francisco "Frank" Diaz, their son, current owner and manager.
If you have not been to Paco's Place, you have missed an incredible experience. I remember when I was first introduced to Paco's Place in 1998. Fred Contreras and I were having a meeting when hunger hit. He suggested Paco's Place and off we went. I had driven by this place hundreds of times and had no clue what a treasure would await me within the simple walls of what must have been someone's home decades ago.
I have now been there, inside those walls, hundreds of times. I discovered not only San Angelo's most authenic Mexican food, but a place where you immediately become a part of their family from the very first visit. I have lost count of how many other people I have now introduced to Paco's Place and the Diaz family. I always know that my friends will be greeted warmly and enjoy old-fashioned "family" hospitality.
For the sake of full disclosure, I consider the Diaz family dear friends now. Frank Diaz has sung at my brother's funeral, my nephew's funeral, my Mother's funeral, and possibly one day (decades from now!!!) will sing at my funeral. Frank and his father, Paco, and son, Josh, have also serenaded us at happier times too - especially birthdays celebrated at their awesome establishment. They have truly been a blessing to me and to my family.
When I decided that I wanted to start searching out for great stories in our community, Paco's Place was at the top of my list. I set an appointment to meet with Frank one afternoon, and we were both teary-eyed before our time together concluded. I was about to discover some wonderful things of great value about my dear friends - and it completely explained and encapsulated what I would call the "Paco's" experience. That's the story I want to share with you!
Frank began sharing the story of how his parents started this restaurant back in 1978. He was only 14 years old at the time. Back at that time, they did not offer buffet but had a menu like all the other restaurants did. They were open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and since this was a family operated business, it made for some long days. Frank fondly remembered that his Mother's breakfast burritos and also hamburgers were hugely popular.
When they purchased the place, they had to transform what was previously Crawford's Grocery and Bait Stand into a restaurant. You can still see to the right of the building where the live bait well was once operated.
In 1992, Frank suggested to his parents that they should convert their operation to a buffet style establishment. He had witnessed for years that the the majority of the customers that stopped by, especially for lunch, only had 30 minutes and they needed to get in and out quickly. They made the change and it was a huge hit. In 1997, Frank took over the family business.
With the timeline and basic facts out of the way, I was able to start asking Frank the kind of questions I wanted to ask. I wanted to know what he learned growing up in the business and any fond memories that had touched him along the way.
Frank began to share how his Father was born in Mexico and how he began coming to the states when we was very young. He was sent back several times, but finally, a company here in the states, Armour Meat Packing Plant, helped him get his papers so he could stay in the states and work. I had never known this story before.
He talked about his Father's love of music and how he loves to sing. I knew he had a beautiful voice, but I never knew it was really a passion for him. He shared about his Father's pride in watching Frank's son, Josh, develop this vocal gift that has been handed down through the generations. Josh is just completing his studies at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, where he is mastering the gift of singing opera. Paco now dreams of Josh becoming the next Pavarotti.
When asked about a special memory of something that has happened at Paco's Place, Frank knew exactly what he wanted to share. He said his Mother, Juanita, always told the kids "don't turn away angels." He began to share a particular memory from when he was a kid that he witnessed his parents do.
Frank recalled a time when a family entered the restaurant and appeared to be very down on their luck. It was a Father and Mother with four children. The Father looked for the owner and approached him (Paco) to inquire if they could have some food. They had not eaten and they were hungry. He was asking basically for any scraps, but Frank witnessed his dad gesture for them to have a seat at the table.
Paco went back into the kitchen and spoke with Juanita about the situation and they both agreed that they were going to feed this family. Juanita cooked up a hot plate of food for each of the six people. The family enjoyed the same service and meal as all the other paying customers.
When the family completed their meal, no money was exchanged, but an invitation to come eat anytime they were hungry. When the family exited the door, they looked and they had all disappeared. It was daylight, and surely they would have been seen them walking away in some direction.
Paco and Juanita began to teach the kids about never turning away anyone who was hungry. You never know when you may be entertaining an angel that God sent your way.
It was at this point that I knew I was going to have to talk with Paco and Juanita to get their story, as well as the third generation that now helps at the restaurant.
PACO & JUANITA'S STORY
On a return visit, I sat down with Paco and Juanita to hear their story. Paco is now 83 years of age, and Juanita is 79. You will see Paco working away at the restaurant virtually everyday at noon. He will greet you with a warm smile, a bowl of chips and their homemade salsa. He busses tables, reloads the buffet, helps with the cash register, and refills drinks. You'll notice all the Diaz family floats around the restaurant providing A+ service in whatever capacity is needed at the moment.
As I'm writing this story, I can't help but ponder the reality that our community would have been at such a great loss if Paco had not fought for his freedom from Mexico and sought out America for his home. Their children and grandchildren, all American born, are such a blessing to our community. I for one am very thankful that God made a way for him to become a US citizen and that he was willing to struggle and work so very hard in order to do that. Those of us that are born here can never understand the true value that others see in what we have and we take it for granted.
Paco was born in San Francisco, Mexico, in 1929. It's about 200 miles from Mexico City - right in the middle of Mexico. He was born Francisco Diaz. In 1947, at the age of 18, Paco took a bus to the US border and began his journey crossing over into our country. In the states he would work as a field hand, picking cotton, picking melons, or whatever the migrant workers were doing that season.
He would get stopped from time to time and sent back across the border. He would simply cross back over once again. In 1950 he decided he would cross over into California. He went to work for a logging company as a truck driver and was hurt in a trucking accident when the rig jack-knifed and he fell out of the cab and was run over by the rig. He knew it was the hand of God watching over him that spared his life. If his head had been turned in any other direction, it would have been crushed and his life lost.
After the accident he returned to Mexico to recuperate. His family was getting concerned that he had not married. Once again Paco returned to the states to seek out the work he needed to send money back home and also to begin to find stable work that would allow him to prepare for one day marrying. He came back to Texas for work.
In 1957, when he returned home, his father insisted that Paco get serious about finding a wife. As tradition was, the single young ladies and men would go the townsquare. The men would walk in one direction around the square and the young ladies walk in the opposite direction. If the young man saw a young lady he wanted to approach, he would buy a flower at one of the vendor stands located on the corners of the square and when they met up again, as they walked around the square, he would approach the young lady with the flower.
Paco spotted a beautiful young lady. He stopped at the flower stand and purchased a gardenia for her. A few minutes later he handed Juanita the gardenia and a lifelong romance began. As Paco was sharing the story, Juanita smiled like a blushing young bride and giggled as she recalled those special moments.
Tradition also required that Paco take his father and mother, along with the local priest, to the young lady's father to ask for her hand in marriage. The pending marriage was approved by both families and Paco promised Juanita that he would return in one year and they would marry. Now he was serious about finding that right job in the states.
In 1957, heading back to the states, Paco headed up to Nebraska. In 1958 he began working for Armour Meat Packing Plant in Omaha. They would later provide Paco with the papers he needed to continue working in the states and eventually provided the way for him to become a citizen. It took three years for Paco to get things ready to bring his wife to the states and begin their life together. Juanita waited.
In 1960, Paco and Juanita married in Mexico before bringing his bride to the states.
When I think back to the conversation with Paco and Juanita, I have more questions for them because they did some things from the very beginning of their relationship that built such a strong foundation. The fact that Paco left behind the love of his life to go prepare a life in another country before bringing her to the states, is a valuable lesson that our world today needs to consider. Patience and purposeful preparation are lost virtues today.
Juanita waited patiently for that year, for this man to return to make her his wife. The year came and went and she still waited. Another year past - but she continued to wait. Three years passed before that long awaited day arrived. There was a trust built between the two of them from the very beginning.
So Paco had the necessary papers this time to legally enter the states and take his bride to Nebraska, to the home and life he had prepared for her. They began their family immediately. Their first daughter, Lupe, was born in 1961 and her little sister, Juanita, arrived in 1963. Then their sons were born, Frank in 1964, and Rich in 1966. In 1968, the plant in Omaha was closed and Armour Meat Packing Company relocated the Diaz family to San Angelo, Texas.
In 1978 the San Angelo plant closed too. They had the opportunity to move to Brownsville, Texas, but the family did not want to move. Paco was paid $8,000 in severance pay, money he would use to start a new life. While working at the San Angelo plant, Paco had started bringing burritos that Juanita had made to work and sold them to his co-workers. They were looking to continue that burrito business and see where it could go from there.
The Roosevelt Hotel had a small diner space in it and was looking for someone to put a restaurant in there. That would be their first attempt in the restaurant business. It lasted only six months before the hotel closed. They began searching for another location. They found a closed grocery store and bait stand that had a drive through window. They negotiated the purchase price and also met with Mr. Phillips at Central National Bank to get the money needed to fix it up. Mr. Martin at Angelo Refrigeration helped them with the restaurant and kitchen equipment that they needed. Lots of hard work and faith were sown into what would become Paco's Place.
Paco's Place opened in 1978, the day after Thanksgiving. They had a full menu and plated meals were served. Juanita's burritos were still a big hit! Both Paco and Juanita grew up working in the market in Mexico, selling fruits and vegetables. Their dads had their fruit stands beside one another. That's where their families first met.
It was Paco's dad who gave him some advice on how to live life before he ever first left Mexico for the states.
He taught him:
• Be gentle with people
• Be honest
• Remember the 10 Commandments
• Love your neighbor
• Honor your parents
• Be in church every Sunday
From the first day, they operated their business with this one rule: Everybody that comes in our place is a blessing - so you bless them until they go out.
Juanita recalled that they wanted to get a sign with lights outside so people would know they were there. They did not have the money for such a sign, so Juanita prayed. God provided. The phone rang. A man called and offered to do the sign. They paid him with food. They bartered.
Together they shared the story about the family, the angels, who came to dinner and then vanished. The same story Frank had told me earlier. Juanita then shared another experience she had with an angel. She was working the restaurant by herself one day during the slow time. This man came in who was hungry and asked for a waffer to eat. Juanita accommodated his request and made a small tortilla, like a waffer. The man enjoyed it and then disappeared - literally!
They have had a wonderful life. It shows on their faces - their joy! Paco commented that he thanks the Lord every morning for another day! He has a special prayer he says every morning for the last six or seven years. I can't think of a better way to close this section than to share his daily prayer:
"Almighty and merciful Father, by the power of your command, take away from me all kind of sickness and disease so that in my renewed health may I bless and serve You forever more. Amen"
& Industrial Supply, Inc.
808 Warehouse Road
San Angelo, Texas 76903 325-655-0075
Hours: Monday-Friday 7:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.