You know the story of the selfmade man — the man who lacks formal education but through hard work, honesty and ambition rises from a menial position to become a respected entrepeneur, important member of the community and recipient of a Businessman of the Year award.
The story is almost cliché but nevertheless true with respect to the late Silverio Trujillo, who founded Waco’s Trujllo’s Comedor y Cantina in 1981.
More than 30 years later, his restaurant is still going strong under the direction of his widow, Delia, and his daughters, Delia Trujillo Fraga and Yolanda Trujillo. But all three give the credit for Trujillo’s success to Silverio and his warm, kind nature.
“My father had an infectious personality, and he never met a stranger,” daughter Delia said. “He knew his customers by name and built a rapport with them. That is something that we continue,” daughter Delia said.
Silverio was born in 1927 in Driscoll, Texas, but moved to Mexico as a young child. He didn’t receive formal education past fifth grade. As a teenager, he traveled with a friend by bus, hoping to reach Chicago to find work. Instead, he got off in Dallas and was a migrant worker. It was on a job to Minnesota to pick potatoes that he met his wife, who was his boss’s daughter. They married in 1950 in Dallas.
In 1954, he took a job as a dish washer for a Dallas El Chico restaurant — a job that paid $30 a week. At that time he still spoke no English.
“Dad told me he knew ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir.’ That and his smile got him through everything,” Delia said.
Silverio stayed with the restaurant chain for 25 years, but quickly moved up in the organization. When he left to open his own restaurant, he had become district manager, overseeing restaurants from Waco to San Antonio.
“Dad said if he could run that many restaurants then surely he could run his own, so he opened El Nopal in Waco’s South Gate shopping center in 1978,” Delia said.
That first restaurant, which was open from 1978 to 1981, was a true mom-and-pop establishment with Silverio and Delia assuming most of the duties. Delia also had learned the restaurant business at El Chico. She had risen through the chain’s ranks as cashier, hostess and assistant manager but left after 20 years in order to spend more time with the couple’s children.
“We learned everything from the Cueller brothers, who started El Chico,” Delia said. “They treated us just like family.”
In 1981, the couple purchased the old Black Angus restaurant on Waco’s traffic circle and turned it into Trujillo’s Comedor y Cantina. From the start, the restaurant offered dishes that couldn’t be found at Tex-Mex chains such as El Chico.
“We had chili relleno and sour cream chicken enchiladas,” his widow said. “We also were one of the first restaurants to serve fajitas on the sizzling skillet plate.”
Many of their dishes came from family. Delia Trujillo said the chicken mole was an aunt’s recipe, as was the recipe for chorizo. Silverio learned to cook chili relleno from his parents.
“My husband experimented with the recipes,”she said. “He loved to cook for his customers and for his family. He always made a huge Sunday breakfast with sausage, bacon, ham, Mexican potatoes — everything.”
Silverio’s daughter, Delia, finds it inspiring that her parents worked with each other for decades and maintained their strong marriage.
“You don’t see a lot of couples working together and staying together,” she said. “But they went to work as a loving couple and went home as a loving couple,” she said.
Silverio and Delia’s children also were involved in the day-to-day operation of the restaurant. Delia remembers working the cash register as a child. She says she loved to count the money.
“Every time I would take cash, I would count the money,” she said. “I would tell my dad that we had this much now, and then when another customer would pay, I would tell him ‘we have this much now.’ It was pretty neat.”
Even today, customers can usually find a family member on site.
Silverio served as cook at El Nopal but he hired cooks once he opened Trujillo’s. He made sure all of them knew his methods and recipes.
“He taught them all, and if the recipe wasn’t to his satisfaction, he would go to the cook to tell them what they needed to add to make the dish correctly,” daughter Delia said. “Some of those cooks now own restaurants. He was an inspiration to the cooks who wanted to be in my dad’s shoes.”
Silverio did take time from the restaurant to become a respected member of the community. He was honored by the CenTex Mexican-American Chamber of Commerce in 1982 as Businessman of the Year and also volunteered with the Lions Club, the Waco and Texas Restaurant Associations, and the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce.
Silverio died in 2008, but his family continues his legacy of great food and a welcoming atmosphere. Customers still clamor for the fajitas, sour cream chicken enchiladas and the chili rellenos, daughter Delia said.
She won’t share the recipe for fajitas, only saying the secret is the marinade. The same goes for the sour cream enchiladas and their special sauce. Some new menu items have been added to Trujillo’s fare. Diners can order a taco salad, tilapia with grilled vegetables, shrimp and fish tacos, and fish enchiladas with jalapeño cream sauce.
“There are customers who come in, and the minute I see them I know what to order,” Delia said. “We had two customers who would always order the same thing. I told them they needed to try something new. They ordered the fish enchiladas and now that’s their thing.”
Diners also can get breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros. Trujillo’s does serve American food such as chicken-fried steak, grilled cheese, spaghetti and hot dogs. Be sure to save room for dessert. A Sopapilla Sundae is popular, as is a dessert item brought to the restaurant menu by daughter Delia — the Mexican fried cheesecake. This luscious confection features cheesecake wrapped in a flour tortilla, fried and covered with chocolate and raspberry sauce.
Trujillo’s also has a beverage item not found at other local restaurants: the Big Red Rita.
“We also are known for our ‘Big Red Ritas.’ It’s a margarita made with Big Red. It’s very different. People love to take pictures of it and post them on Facebook. I decided to add it to the menu after I saw one at Fiesta in San Antonio. We are the only Waco restaurant that serves it,” she said.
Trujllo’s Comedor y Cantina has a variety of specials during the week. People can stop by for Taco Tuesday and “Mrs. T’s Wild Women Wednesday” with half-price bean or cheese nachos, the all-you-can-eat enchilada dinner and $2.50 margaritas. The fajitas-for-one special on Friday nights is very popular. Friday and Saturday nights bring 99-cent Dos Equis beer. Children also can eat for 99 cents on Saturday nights.
“Every December we do something for our anniversary,” daughter Delia said. “At our 30th anniversary we sold the enchilada dinner for $3.39 and we had a line out the door.”
Mother and daughter say people come to the restaurant for consistent good food, but return week after week because of the relationship they develop with the family.
“My father loved the people who came through the door,” Delia said. “He believed the relationships he built with customers is what kept them coming back. He is gone now, but we still treat everyone like family. We aren’t changing that or going anywhere. We are staying right here on the circle.”
Trujillo’s Comedor y Cantina
2612 LaSalle Ave.
(on Waco’s traffic circle)
Tues., 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; 5 to 10 p.m.
Wed.-Sat., 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Closed Sunday and Monday