Growing Up in the Restaurant Business

When comfort food is a place instead of a dish

Jimmy Diaz, Vincent Chaparro, Sierra Diaz, Eric Diaz, Alex Diaz, and Terri Diaz

One of my fondest memories growing up was sitting on the bar of my dad’s restaurant watching Spongebob and eating french fries. That was a typical day in my life, all while my dad prepared for the dinner shift.

Most people who have worked in the restaurant industry either love it or hate it, there really isn’t an in between. Then there’s someone like me, who was brought up in the business. It was my decision to either hate it or love it, and I chose the latter. Growing up, I was fortunate enough to explore the many flavors of foods at a young age. I knew food wasn’t something people just eat but a work of art. My father’s restaurant Pelican’s Steak & Seafood in El Paso, was something special, somewhere people can connect with friends and family, enjoy delicious foods, and create memories.

This place to me is where I get my comfort food, a place I crave despite the distance and the variety of delicious options available to me in Austin. Don’t get me wrong, moving to Austin has opened my eyes to a whole other food scene, and I’ve fallen in love. Whether it’s keeping up with the latest food trends, breaking barriers, or reinventing dishes, chefs and owners here are always striving for the best. It made me appreciate the process even more, but what stuck with me the most are those mom and pop spots that put love into the food it serves.

When I was working alongside my dad I saw the amount of passion he had for what he did. He would show up to work even on his days off, he would put on an apron to help out in the back, and he always set aside time to talk and meet with each of his guests. It’s something he still does, and something I admire in any restaurant I’m in. Another fond memory that I share at his restaurant is going to lunch after church on Sundays, sitting with my family fighting over calamari, and ordering my favorite prime rib sandwich. It’s the simple things like that – the food, the atmosphere, and the family around me – that have always stuck with me.

It’s because of my dad that I was given this unique outlook. When I’m able to recognize that in other restaurants it’s something I respect in the owner, the staff, and the food. Next time you’re dining out, think about that, and it’ll change the way you look at food.

In celebration of the Chronicle’s 2017 First Plates Awards, our annual compendium of Austin’s top 100 restaurants, and this year’s comfort food theme, our writers are sharing their favorite comfort food memories.

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Restaurant, restaurant industry, food, El Paso, First Plates 2017

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