2211-B Ryan St. • 337-602-6772
Chef’s Spotlight • By Karla Wall
For Juan Alvarado, learning to cook was an added bonus. He just wanted to work.
Born into a family of 14 children in South Texas, Alvarado says he had to learn how to be self-sufficient at an early age.
“I knew whatever I wanted, I’d have to earn the money for it,” he says. “I knew I’d have to work for it.”
So, at the tender age of 11 or 12, he got a job washing dishes at a Corpus Christi area restaurant.
“I bought my own clothes. I bought my first car when I was 15, before I could even drive it legally,” he says.
While the job earned him the money for a few luxuries, it also pointed him to a career.
“I found I enjoyed cooking, and was good at it,” he says.
He was also good at handling the business aspect of a restaurant. He moved up in the ranks, eventually becoming manager while still in high school.
His work in the Corpus restaurant earned him the chance to really further his career when he was named director of operations for the 10 Southeast Texas (Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange, Silsbee and Jasper) restaurants his boss
owned. After a few years, a business dispute with the owner led him to leave that position. He came to Lake Charles and decided to leave the restaurant business behind entirely. He took a job with Billy Navarre Chevrolet, where he worked for 15 years, 14 in the finance department, then one year on the lot as a salesperson.
But the desire to own his own restaurant grew. “I wanted to do something on my own — to own my own business,” he says.
And his experience in restaurant management and as a cook made the decision to open Tio Juan’s a no-brainer. He found the perfect spot on Ryan, on the corner with Chavanne, next to the Chevron gas station/convenience store.
“It’s a great location,” he says. “It’s close to downtown, and gets all the traffic along Ryan Street. I chose the place based on its location entirely.”
And he hasn’t looked back. Business has been great, he says, and word of mouth about Tio Juan’s fresh and authentic Mexican dishes has spread, earning the restaurant a steady stream of customers.
Alvarado will be the first to tell you he’s picky when it comes to the food that comes out of his kitchen.
“Anyone who knows me or has worked for me will tell you how picky I am,” he says. “From the size of the cut vegetables to the plating.”
Quality, he says, is the most important thing to him when it comes to food.
“I want everything that comes out of this kitchen to be the best it can be,” he says. “I want the customer to love the taste of the food; to experience great flavor.”
Alvarado’s attention to detail and his dedication to flavor and quality have made Tio Juan’s a go-to spot for those who want Mexican food with extraordinary flavor. And Alvarado makes sure his customers leave happy.
“I talk to everyone who comes in here,” he says. “I make sure they love what they’re eating and that they’re happy.”
His commitment to his customers’ enjoyment extends beyond the food to the atmosphere. There’s Latin music playing, and the walls are covered with prints, paintings and memorabilia of all sorts, from military salutes to pictures chosen to appeal to kids.
“We have one little girl who comes in with her parents regularly” he says. Pointing to a corner, he adds, “She loves to sit in that corner staring at the cat pictures.”
His most popular menu items include the fruit margaritas (strawberry, sour apple, apple, mango and many others), the TJ Burrito (a massive wrap with ground beef, beans and rice, topped with chili, queso, jalapeno and pico) and the barbacoa taco. Also popular is his lineup of breakfast tacos (they’re open at 6 am for breakfast), which includes chorizo and egg; potato, bacon and egg; and bacon, egg and cheese.
Alvarado has built quite a business with attention to detail, his knowledge of food, and his dedication to making his customers happy.