For Chris Smith and his business partner Guy Barrios, the restaurant business is familiar ground. Before opening La Viva Cantina in Cypress, the duo opened another restaurant in Richmond with great success as Barrios handled the construction side and Smith tackled management, according to Smith.

Since La Viva Cantina opened last September, Smith has served as the owner and operator of the restaurant, managing the paperwork involved in running a business and being there for his employees.

La Viva Cantina offers an expansive menu of Tex-Mex dining from ceviche to fajitas as well as more traditional American foods such as ribs and steak. The restaurant also offers a full drink menu.

Smith said he sees himself and La Viva Cantina as unconventional, having opened his restaurant without the flair of a grand opening or even signage out front.

“We didn’t have a sign for the first six months,” Smith said. “Just because I wanted to slowly build it because with social media and everything, you only get one chance to make the first impression.”

While starting small, Smith was able to train new hires in small groups, making the task more manageable. Opening a restaurant during the pandemic presented unique challenges and forced Smith and his workforce to adapt, he said.

In terms of staffing, Smith said he is proud of his ability to create a work environment that is comfortable and respectful of his employees.

“My goal is to be the best employer in town,” Smith said. “I found that if I’m the best employer in town, I’m never going to be short on employees.”

When hiring new employees, Smith said he asks what they expect from him, which is often respect and kindness. He said he believes taking care of employees as well as providing good food and great service are the keys to success.

“Those are the three things that we really focus in on but really taking care of the employees,” Smith said. “And if I take care of the employees, the employees will take care of the guest, and it works out well there.”

29040 Hwy. 290, Ste. A15, Cypress, 346-577-8820.

Hours: Sun.-Thu. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.