Bauer Alumni Restaurant Owners – Among Houston’s Most
Successful – Find Ingredients for Success in Greenway Plaza
In the restaurant business, it’s not just where you are located, but who is traveling down that road.
That fact is especially important to UH Bauer alumni and restaurateurs Jesse Chaluh (’81) and Marko Garcia (’97), who both operate successful restaurants in Greenway Plaza along the busy feeder road of the Southwest Freeway, a hub of traffic from business lunch-goers, neighborhood families and freeway drivers.
Chaluh opened his first Chick-fil-A restaurant in 1987 and purchased the Greenway Plaza restaurant three years ago. After building it from the ground up, the location is now Houston’s number one Chick-fil-A. Chaluh has another Chick-fil-A in Meyerland Plaza, which is also a high volume location. Chick-fil-A has more than 28 stores in the Houston area.
In addition to the bustling location, Chaluh said his employees are what make his success possible. “Some fast food owners will try to improve customer service by adding fancy ordering devices or computers, but our cutting-edge technology is our people,” he added.
For Chaluh, this means taking orders car-side in the drive-through lane during the lunch hour rush or fulfilling a last-minute catering order placed an hour before lunch.
“Does it cost us more? Sure, but that’s okay,” he said. “Our goal is to treat people with dignity and respect, and that’s what we do.”
Chaluh goes out of his way to serve his customers. His restaurant is one of only two restaurants in Texas to have dual drive-through lanes, and in 2010, he plans to open a third lane. His mobile cooking unit makes him one of a few Chick-fil-A owners who can cook offsite at catering functions.
Customer service and innovation are also key factors for success for Garcia, who found his niche with 100% Taquito, a restaurant near Buffalo Speedway, while attending the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship in the late 1990s.
Garcia grew up in Mexico City and came to Houston at the age of eight. After arriving in the United States, Garcia said he was surprised to find that most restaurants that claimed to have authentic Mexican food were really Tex-Mex.
“In Mexico City, I never had nachos or enchiladas. Most of the things you find at ‘authentic’ Mexican food restaurants were invented in the U.S.”
The surprising lack of Mexican cuisine prompted Garcia to start 100% Taquito. The word “taquito” refers to the small tacos found on the streets of Mexico, and when he first started, Garcia served them from a taco stand in a busy Westheimer shopping center.
The concept took off, and he was able to open his restaurant in Greenway Plaza, where his original taco stand still stands as a reminder of his beginnings.
In 2006, Texas Monthly named Garcia’s tacos as No. 3 in their list of the Top 60 Tacos You Must Eat Before You Die, making his the number one tacos in Houston.
Garcia is insistent on keeping his food true to his Mexico City home. His tacos are not drenched in chile con queso. In fact, you won’t find any yellow cheese served in his restaurant.
“It’s very important to me that I remain true to the cuisine. In Mexico, we only cook with white cheeses, so in our restaurant, we use fresca and Chihuahua,” Garcia said. “Some people come in and get frustrated when they don’t see their Tex Mex staples on the menu, while others come in and tell me they feel right at home.”
“It’s an experience, and once people catch on and understand the concept, they come back and bring their friends. Success is not conforming but staying true to the concept. Be flexible, but not so much that you loose yourself.”
By Lori Reichardt