AUSTIN (KXAN) — Everyone was family at Casita Jorge’s, including customers.
“[He] was always, ‘Hey, have a seat. Come join us. We got something to eat.’ And my mom would too. My mom was always, ‘You want something to eat?’” Rebecca Marie Gomez said. “This is our regular people. My dad always made everybody [his friend], especially my mom, everybody became a family.”
Gomez is Jorge Arredondo’s daughter — the youngest of five siblings. Much of her childhood was spent at her late father’s restaurant, Casita Jorge’s, with her family. She was put to work at a young age along with her other siblings. Arredondo loved to cook and knew others would enjoy it too. He opened his first restaurant on Fifth Street in east Austin in 1973. The second location opened shortly after on Elmont Drive in east Austin. At its peak, he had handfuls of restaurants across the Austin-area, including one as far south as San Marcos.
Gomez credits the business growth to how he treated patrons, from every day Austinites and tourists to some you might recognize by their names: musicians Joe “King“ Carrasco and the late Stevie Ray Vaughan — each would show up after gigs. Actor Chuck Norris even stepped through the doors once to eat and hang out.
“In the restaurant, when they opened the door, it was an invitation: ‘Come in and eat.’ I’m gonna show you my food, I’m gonna share my food. And a lot of times there were so many people that came across to my family… it was always wonderful cause we never were just little us, it was always extras. That was the invite I always saw and considered. Because why? It was, ‘Welcome, come on in.’ If we had one plate, we had enough to feed everybody,” she said.
Casita Jorge’s was known for their enchiladas, migas and margaritas along with other popular items such as barbacoa — a staple that drew lines out the door. You can hear about each in the following videos. Gomez details each in the series:
Reflecting on Jorge’s life and death
Gomez said her father’s passing was unexpected. Because his health declined and she knew he would be bedridden quite often, she created a family tree for him to look at. The collage of pictures was a gift for his birthday. He died at the age of 87 on Nov. 29. Her mom, Rebecca Arredondo, passed 21 years before him. You can listen to the emotional story behind the gift in the video below:
Arredondo took pride in his family, especially his grandchildren, who he loved dearly.
“He knew everyone’s name, he knew what they were. He was a character. And my nieces, I had nieces that had their own ritual with my dad. One of them knew every Wednesday, ‘I’m gonna call grandpa, I’m gonna talk to grandpa.’ The other one would call on a Thursday, and if not, my sons, both of my boys would make it a point [to call and visit]. They had their own conversations with grandpa. Their own language was just their own,” Gomez said.
Gomez’ son Manuel Thomas Rebolloso, the youngest of her three kids, got to know more of his late grandfather through stories.
He grew up going over to his house to see him and listen. His walls were filled with pictures of his family.
“Every time we would come in, it was like you were visiting everyone cause a new picture comes up, ‘Oh, look there’s my cousin…’ and that’s just what really kept us a family and what reminds us what a family is, is because I come to spend my time with him and along with that the stories can start from the Navy and then we’re looking at my niece on the wall,” Rebolloso said. “Tell me a story, tell me about this, tell me about that and how he can start from the beginning to end, give him a couple of seconds to think on it, but once he’s talking he’s on his roll and like my mom had said, every name, person, place — he’s right there on it and it was very sweet.”
Experiences he never took for granted. Rebolloso captured one of those moments in a video clip. He describes the audio he cherishes in the video below:
Gomez said his legacy, “besides margaritas,” was his family, the growth of the restaurant, and the enchiladas — which can still be eaten today under a different roof and name but within the same family at Enchiladas Y Mas in north Austin.
“They have the margaritas, they have those enchiladas and they are wonderful. And they’re doing really good and I’m proud of them because it’s them who want to continue the legacy of what was then.”
When asked about her Jorge’s influence on the Austin-area, she replied:
“The restaurant was my parents’ dream, I was just a part of it. That was their wishes. I was too young, I hadn’t had my dream yet. It was what they did and where they wanted to go and what they saw. This was them. So their legacy is what they built and I’m proud of that and I’m proud to be a part of that dream of what they wanted.”
Gomez’s family is holding a rosary prayer service at Mission Funeral Home on East Cesar Chavez from 4-7 p.m. Tuesday. It will be streamed virtually. You can contact Mission on their website to learn more. They also invite anyone who knew her father to attend 11 a.m. mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe church on Wednesday, Dec. 9. He will be buried at Assumption Cemetery afterward.