The Austin Chronicle

Fonda San Miguel Timeline

By Virginia B. Wood, February 8, 2002, Food

1972-1975 Tom Gilliland and Miguel Ravago operate San Angel restaurant in Houston, serving interior Mexican cuisine to a small but very loyal clientele. Diana Kennedy, the grande dame of Mexican cuisine, eats there and becomes their culinary mentor.

November, 1975 With the enthusiastic support of some local backers, partners Gilliland and Ravago open Fonda San Miguel in Austin, in the former home of a restaurant called Mi Casa Es Su Casa. Diana Kennedy is the menu consultant.

December, 1975 First restaurant review in the hip, 2-year-old magazine called Texas Monthly. This began a lengthy process of educating Texans about interior Mexican food. The restaurant eventually makes a concession to being in business in Texas and begins serving nachos and chips and hot sauce.

April, 1978 Awarded a star alongside Texas Monthly review.

1978 First major remodel of exterior and interior: enclosure of patio, relocation of bar, creation of tortilla station, with interior design by Bill Luft and landscaping by Tom Hess.

1985 Success in Austin and the big Texas real estate boom encourage the partners to open a Fonda San Miguel outlet in Houston.

1986 Real estate boom busted before FSM-Houston had the opportunity to really develop a clientele. The restaurant closes in six months.

1987 Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing saves the Austin restaurant.

1991 Second major interior renovation. Designer Bill Luft works with Mexican colorist Chucho, adding bold, bright colors to the interior design.

1994 Fonda San Miguel is invited to present the fabulous Sunday brunch buffet at the prestigious James Beard Foundation House in New York City, becoming one of only a handful of Texas restaurants so honored.

1995 This year marks the second invitation to present at the Beard House. This time it's a sit-down dinner.

April, 1996 Thirty-year partnership between the two owners dissolves; founding chef Miguel Ravago leaves the restaurant he helped to build.

Spring, 1997 After a difficult year, Gilliland hires Mexico City native Roberto Santibañez to take charge of the Fonda kitchen. The charming Cordon Bleu-trained Santibañez turns things around and develops a loyal following among diners who appreciate his subtle, sophisticated "Nueva Cocina" culinary stylings.

April, 1998 Cocina de la Familia, a cookbook co-authored by Ravago with Marilyn Tausend, wins an International Association of Culinary Professionals award for Best American Cookbook.

1999-2000 New menu debuts, featuring some original creations by Santibañez.

February, 2001 Ravago returns to Fonda San Miguel as general manager.

April, 2001 Santibañez returns to his native Mexico where he is currently working as a consultant for the Nestle Company.

July, 2001 Ravago becomes executive chef once again.

March, 2002 Ravago's first new menu since his return is scheduled to be unveiled.

2002-2003 Projected extensive remodel of the Fonda San Miguel kitchen.

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