For Matthew Talavera, his Puerto Rican restaurant El Caribeño has always been about family.

“My aunt, Rachel Arroyo, she founded the company back in 2018,” he said. “We had the opportunity to take it over from her, and we’ve just scaled it up ever since then.” The restaurant had humble beginnings in a gas station in Spring, and Matthew soon expanded to a brick-and-mortar location in Cypress alongside his mother, Rose Talavera.

Business was better in the Cypress market, Matthew said, and his grandmother lives in the area, which was another reason to make the move. The family’s 100-year-old recipes are incorporated in El Caribeño’s menu. Matthew works with his two brothers and his wife to oversee operations, each of them playing a role in creating dishes and welcoming visitors.

“In all honesty, one of our goals is really giving [Puerto Rican food] the exposure it deserves because it’s amazing food,” Matthew said. “It’s Caribbean food; a lot of it is made fresh from scratch. It’s very labor-intensive preparation for the food.”

This includes marinating meats for 24 hours and then slow roasting them for maximum flavor. Plantains are incorporated into dishes as well for subtle, traditional flavors. One of the most popular items is mofongo, or mashed plantains served with garlic, herbs and spices.

Matthew said he trusts his family to help him introduce Puerto Rican cuisine to a new market because they are just as passionate about sharing their culture, he said. Since opening, he has been able to extend this trust to chefs and staff members he has hired outside his family as they prioritize a comfortable environment for guests.

“You know, as a business owner and a family man, it’s very important that I have people I can trust and rely on to keep things at a certain standard of quality, whether it’s food or it’s service,” Matthew said. “Having a great staff that we have and great employees, it’s a blessing. That’s what keeps people coming back.”