Eatery owner turns setbacks into longtime local franchise

What started as an unsuccessful attempt to sell homemade tacos to police officers has turned into two successful Round Rock restaurants for Dan Balderas.

After both a failed business and relationship left him broke and staying at his brother's house in Round Rock in 1977, Balderas said he decided to make homemade tacos and sell them in the community.

On the first day, Balderas went to the police station and local businesses ready to sell 100 tacos for 55 cents each; he only sold one.

"I told my brother it went real good and that I ran out of tacos," he laughed. "I didn't want him to feel sorry for me."

But within three months, Balderas had decided to open his own Mexican food restaurant. He has since gone on to own 15 restaurants throughout Round Rock and the surrounding area.

"I've always been cooking; that's the talent the Lord gave me," he said.

Little Red Wagon Hamburgers, which changed its name from Little Red Barn Hamburgers about four years ago, is one of two Balderas restaurants still open. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers everything from chicken-fried steak to enchiladas.

The Daily Special that runs all week is a double cheeseburger, large soda and french fries for $5.69. The hamburgers are made fresh every day and are a much higher quality than fast food, Balderas said.

The restaurant serves more than just hamburgers, though. The chicken-fried steak is a popular menu choice and comes with mashed potatoes and corn. Baja tacos and fried shrimp also offer variety on a menu Balderas attends to with a simple philosophy.

"It's got to be tasty, and it's got to be consistent," he said of making a good hamburger. "You can't give customers something good one day and not good the next."

The interior of Little Red Wagon Hamburgers got a makeover late last year with new paint on the walls, new lighting to replace fluorescent lights and new floors. Balderas said business has increased by more than 30 percent since the restaurant was remodeled.

Balderas said good customer service is crucial to running a successful restaurant. He said his goal is to train and give employees the tools necessary for them to go on and open their own restaurants.

Balderas said he tells people they can get rich in the restaurant industry serving common dishes like chicken-fried steak and hamburgers as long as the food is better than the competition.

"You can do the same thing—just make it better," he said. "Customers will hear about it. It might take a little while, but they will come."

Popular items

Chicken fried steak: The Chicken Fried Steak Dinner Plate, which comes with mashed potatoes and corn, is $6.79. The tenderized meat used in the chicken fried steak is never frozen, and Balderas said he put a significant amount of work into the recipe.

Baja tacos: The Baja Taco Plate, $6.79, is two fish tacos served with beans, rice and a creamy jalapeo sauce. The newer menu item has been a hit with customers, Balderas said.

Fried shrimp: For $10.95, customers get eight fried shrimp served with french fries, onion rings and Texas toast. Balderas said he learned how to bread the shrimp and plate the dish from a San Antonio restaurant he worked at as a teenager.

Tio Dan Puffy Tacos Mexican Restaurant

Tio Dan Puffy Tacos Mexican Restaurant, the other Round Rock restaurant owned by Balderas, is located at 409 Round Rock Ave. The Mexican eatery serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. For more information, call 246-7733.

Little Red Wagon Hamburgers, 1207 E. Palm Valley Blvd., 310-2554