Freddy Trevino has weathered a major fire, chain restaurants and an encroaching highway to create and maintain one of Mansfield’s oldest and most popular eateries, Cha Cha’s Mexican Restaurant.
“The thing about restaurants, you have to feel like you know people,” Trevino said. “Make them feel like they’re wanted. They have a choice. If they come here, let’s make sure they want to come back tomorrow.”
Trevino has had a quarter of a century to refine his restaurant knowledge.
In 1991, Mansfield only had about 16,000 residents and pickings were slim for restaurants. But Trevino, his sister and brother-in-law, Esther and Larry Williams, saw the potential in the empty restaurant on FM 157, just off U.S. 287.
“There were not many places, as far as competition,” Trevino said. “We were one of the only ones of any size. We knew (FM 157) was going to expand.”
But Trevino had to learn how to run a business. Before opening Cha Cha’s, he had bussed tables, won Fort Worth’s Golden Gloves title, went to college, joined the Marines and worked for Alcon. His sister and brother-in-law had managed restaurants and brought their experience. For Trevino, it was an on-the-job education.
Trevino found a chef who knew what he was doing, wrote down his recipes and taught his staff. He has cooks who have been with Cha Cha’s for more than 20 years, using the original recipes.
“Here we make everything,” he said. “We don’t open a can. We make flour tortillas, but we don’t make the corn. Growing up, that’s the way we ate. My mom made everything.
“We had a smaller menu as time went on,” Trevino said. “We kept adding what people would request. The clientele would tell us.”
The most popular items on the menu are the fajitas, enchiladas and the margaritas, which go for $2.50 on Saturdays for a 16-ounce glass.
A recent addition, a spinoff on their fajitas, has also proved to be popular.
“The molcajetes, we went to Mexico and brought it back,” he said. “We take a big concrete bowl and keep it hot over the fire. The whole time you’re eating, the food stays hot, the fajita chicken, beef, shrimp, cactus, onions and bell peppers with a special hot sauce we make just for that. Rice, beans, pico, guacamole and sour cream come with it. It comes sauteed in its own sauce. It’s enough for two, but I sell it for one.”
Getting the recipe wasn’t easy, though. After finding them at his favorite Cabo San Lucas restaurant, Ole Ole, Trevino tried to re-create molcajetes in his own kitchen without success.
“We tried to do the hot sauce, and I couldn’t get it,” he said. “I walked in the kitchen and they ran me out. The owner caught me going out the door and told me not to be in the kitchen. I told him all I wanted was the recipe, and he gave it to me.”
Another Cha Cha’s secret is its meat plates, like the carne asada, which contain more meat than most restaurants, Trevino said.
During the holidays, tamales are the hottest thing going at Cha Cha’s. The restaurant sells about 20 dozen tamales a day, starting right after Thanksgiving, Trevino said.
Things haven’t always been easy for Cha Cha’s, though. When FM 157 was widened, the expansion took out part of the restaurant’s parking lot. People who parked at the shopping center next door when the restaurant’s parking was full were towed before Trevino worked out a rental agreement with the shopping center’s management.
But the biggest threat came Aug. 14, 2012, when an ice maker caught early one morning, damaged the kitchen and several appliances. Soot and smoke damage required the owners to gut the building and replace all the furniture and fixtures. The restaurant was closed until January 2013, but Cha Cha’s kept all of its staff on the payroll, losing only one employee, Trevino said.
“These are our friends and family, this is my second house,” said Virginia Rosas Alvarado, who has cooked at Cha Cha’s for 24 years.
When the restaurant re-opened, diners came flooding back.
“That’s Cha Cha’s secret, customer loyalty,” said Ashleigh Persons, a bartender and server. “I think it feels like family. A lot of people have been coming for years, sitting in the same chairs. We take care of each other.”
This article contains information from News-Mirror archives.
Cha Cha’s Mexican Restaurant
1950 FM 157