Family-owned restaurant El Chaparro Mexican Bar & Grill comes full circle opening fourth location

Tavo's Puffy Tacos ($13-$16) is named after late owner Gustavo Hernandez (Christopher Goodwin/Community Impact Newspaper)
Tavo's Puffy Tacos ($13-$16) is named after late owner Gustavo Hernandez (Christopher Goodwin/Community Impact Newspaper)

Tavo's Puffy Tacos ($13-$16) is named after late owner Gustavo Hernandez (Christopher Goodwin/Community Impact Newspaper)

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El Chaparro Sampler• ($21) allows customers to test the waters with ribs, chicken and beef nachos, and mixed quesadillas. (Christopher Goodwin/Community Impact Newspaper)
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Fish Campeche ($23) is a fish fillet stuffed with shrimp, cheese and spinach and bathed in a creamy white wine sauce. (Christopher Goodwin/Community Impact Newspaper)
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Owner Efrain Hernandez crafts summer cocktails. (Christopher Goodwin/Community Impact Newspaper)
The Hernandez family opened the fourth location of El Chaparro Mexican Bar & Grill in The Woodlands in May 2021, coming full circle by taking over the lease of their old culinary stomping grounds. Efrain Hernandez said he and his brother, Gustavo Hernandez, worked in the location for 20 years under its previous ownership before they left in 2009 to start El Chapparo on FM 1488 in 2009.

El Chaparro serves authentic Hispanic cuisine with traditional favorite dishes such as fajitas and enchiladas.

Efrain, who comes up with the frequent specials offered, also crafts beverages at the restaurant’s bar using his mixology skills. His most recent concoctions include cucumber and hibiscus cocktails.

Surviving a loss

Through the years, the brothers have accumulated a following after opening locations on FM 1488, in Spring and in Tomball. Lorena Hernandez, sister of Gustavo and Efrain and the Tomball manager, said customers have been a source of support to the restaurants during the pandemic, during which the family lost Gustavo in 2020.


“This is a community restaurant, so we get the same customers all the time,” Lorena said. “[The pandemic] has affected us but not a whole lot, because the customers [say] they love this place.”

Lorena said the restaurant rotates the menu’s items about once a year, paying close attention to customer feedback on which dishes are popular. A recent addition to the menu was Tavo’s Puffy Tacos, named after Gustavo.

“We made those tacos to do a special on Tuesdays, and that’s the last thing I made for him, and I named them ... Tavo’s Puffy Tacos,” Efrain said.

Gustavo became sick with COVID-19 and was hospitalized for 40 days until he died Sept. 18, 2020, Efrain said. The brothers had secured the lease for their Woodlands location in July 2020 and originally planned to open in November 2020.

“I felt empty already without my brother. Gustavo’s wife, Betty Hernandez, and Lorena, my sister, we talked about what we wanted to do [to continue],” Efrain said. “We had a little meeting and said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’”

El Chaparro began construction in January 2021 and finished almost six months later, opening its The Woodlands location May 30. Betty took over Gustavo’s ownership and joined her in-laws in keeping Gustavo’s legacy alive.

“It was our dream, my brother Gustavo and I, [to] come over here and give the shopping center life again,” Efrain said.

Local connections

The restaurant struggles with employment issues while having to compete with big chain restaurants, she said.

Lorena said they create a familial work culture that carries over to their customers’ dining experiences.“[The employees] know [the managers] and respect everybody, and they feel like we care about them, and that makes them stay here,” Lorena said.

From working under someone else to growing their own chain of restaurants, the Hernandez family said their business offers food and drinks crafted with passion and an atmosphere they said they hope will bring customers closer to their loved ones.“My brother told me, ‘I want to keep opening more restaurants so I can employ my friends and family,’” Lorena said.

El Chaparro Mexican Bar & Grill

8000 Research Forest Drive, The Woodlands

346-831-0671

www.elchaparro.net

Hours: Mon-Thu. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Sun. 10:30 p.m.-9 p.m.

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