‘Family is more important than money’ at Matt's El Rancho

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Paul Counter | Daily Texan Staff

Rodney Warner remembers running across the grass at the Matt’s El Rancho property, following the scent of fresh tortillas. Along with that came the familiar faces of Matt and Janie Martinez greeting people as he walked inside the restaurant. Once inside, the restaurant sprang to life. It was a true family atmosphere, and they treated him well.

Warner was 5 years old 63 years ago. He said the restaurant hasn’t changed since. That is the magic of El Rancho.

“You go there when you want some comfort,” Warner said.

General manager Paul Counter said Matt’s El Rancho has stood the test of time for so long because of their connections to generations of families. The restaurant began with Janie’s own home cooking, and those recipes have stayed the same to this day. “It is not like work, it is like a second home,” long-time employee Patricia Del Campo said.

The food itself is famous in Austin, and the atmosphere appeals to people of all ages. Texas Monthly rated their classic Asadero tacos, made from the same cut of meat as filet mignon, as one of the 120 tacos you must try before you die. And the Bob Armstrong dip is famous among Texans.

But food is not all that Matt’s El Rancho has to offer. It is clear that the restaurant values quality and culture. For example, the tequila used in the margaritas is imported directly from Tequila, Mexico, by the barrel, and the team visits the area every summer to ensure quality. The owners maintain a strong relationship with their employees as well as their suppliers.

Counter said the business’s dedication to quality and authenticity is nothing new. When Matt’s father created one of the first Mexican restaurants in Austin, Matt would spend his time selling tamales from a pushcart.

Del Campo said many of the employees there today share similar roots, which serves as a  key factor in their decision to work there.

Counter said several employees stay for many years and become influential in the history of the restaurant. For example, the Asadero tacos were created especially for the restaurant by Jose Hernandez, the kitchen manager of 25 years.

“I wanted to be in a place where I was in my own environment because I am Mexican,” Del Campo said.

Warner said he recognized this as well and added that “all people are treated the same” at the restaurant

Matt’s El Rancho prides itself on its deep history, even if that means sacrificing sales. The Mexican restaurant is closed every Tuesday because in his younger years, Matt was a boxer who would go to San Antonio to see the fights on Tuesdays. Even though that is not the case today, the break provides a nice time for employees to spend with their families.

Warner said Matt’s El Rancho also provides fair pricing for its meals and has many combination options.

“At El Rancho, family is more important than money,” Counter said.

For customers such as Warner, it is clear the restaurant is built upon relationships between management, staff and customers. As you enter greeted with a smile, and you are left with one twice as wide. Matt’s El Rancho is a culinary landmark in Austin.

“They thank you for being a customer, and I thank them for taking care of us, so it is a two-way street.” Warner said. “They respect us spending our dollar there.”