A dear friend of King William has died. Mary Trevino passed away February 13 at age 102. As a tribute to this remarkable lady, we are repeating excerpts from an interview with her ten years ago when she was only 92:
Mary Trevino’s bright smile has greeted guests at El Mirador for more than 35 years. At 92 years of age, she still works the register, cooks the soup and sauces and fills in wherever she is needed around the restaurant.
Mary’s son Julian and his wife Diana moved to King William in the late 1960’s, and that’s when Mary and her husband Julian, Sr. began visiting the neighborhood. “When our first granddaughter, Jessica, was born,” Mary said, “we couldn’t stay away.”
There was a small restaurant in the building next door to the present El Mirador, a pleasant place where the Trevinos ate occasionally. It had three booths, one table and a few stools at the counter. Julian happened to notice one day that the little restaurant was for rent. Mary got on the telephone right away to her sister-in-law and a friend and said, ”You want to go into the restaurant business with us?”
The first thing they both said was, “Who’s going to do the cooking? You can’t cook! I can’t cook! None of us knows how to cook!”
“We don’t need to know,” Mary told them. “The restaurant already has a cook.” So they pooled their resources and were soon in business, but the cook proved to be temperamental. “About a month after we opened, the cook suddenly took off,” Mary said. “I had no choice. I had to learn to cook in a hurry, taste and make changes until I got it right.” She evidently ‘got it right’ because the business soon began to prosper.
Mary, her sister-in-law and the friend cooked, waited tables and cleaned while Julian, Sr. did the purchasing as well as cooking his specialty dishes. Things went along fine for several months until the building owner decided he wanted the space back. The Trevinos and their partners were forced to find a new location. They wanted to stay in the neighborhood and were lucky to find a place on the corner of Presa and Martinez streets. The rent was higher, “but HemisFair was in full swing and business was good,” Mary said. After a while, seeing how they were prospering, the owner of that building decided to raise the rent -- more than double. The Trevino’s offered to buy the building but the owner named an exorbitant price, so again, they had to search for another location.
The place on St. Mary’s, the current El Mirador building, was being offered for sale and after much debate, they decided to buy it. The owners proved to be difficult to negotiate with, raising the price, then wanting only cash, then reneging and eventually backing out altogether. The Trevino’s persisted and finally came to an agreement, but by this time, Mary wasn’t sure she wanted it after all. It had been a nightclub – painted black on the inside with red spotlights and ugly carpet. “It was an awful mess.” Mary remembers. “We had a lot of work to do to get it ready for business.”
After all of the aggravation of buying the new place and getting it ready for business, the Trevino’s needed some time away so they made a trip to Mexico. “One evening, we were having dinner in a nice restaurant,” Mary said. “Julian and I both ordered the soup which we liked very much. When we got home, I was still thinking about that soup. It was very good but it lacked something – it needed vegetables to make it a meal.”
“You should make the soup the way you like it,” Julian told her. “Make your own version.”
“I tried this and I tried that until I finally had it just the way I wanted it but then nobody was ordering it,” Mary said. “Finally, Julian said, ‘Stop with the soup! Nobody’s buying it and it’s just going to waste.’” But Mary, who admits to having a stubborn streak, was not ready to give up so she started giving away samples with all the lunches. It wasn’t long before people were asking for “a bowl of that wonderful soup.” Mary’s Sopa Azteca soon became famous as the “Saturday Soup.” Even on a hot summer Saturday, locals and tourist alike lined up to get a bowl of “the soup that wouldn’t sell.”
Many well-known San Antonians have been regulars over the years at El Mirador. “O’Neil Ford ate here every day for years,” Mary said. “One morning he came in to speak to Julian. ‘I’m going to be bringing some important people for lunch today. These folks are from Europe so I want everything to be really special.’”
A big table was set up and ready for Ford and his guests. The food was good and the service attentive. When presented with the bill, Ford pulled out his checkbook with a flourish and wrote out a check for the meal adding a generous gratuity. Julian took the check, leaned close to Ford’s ear and whispered loud enough for everyone at the table to hear, “Mr. Ford, do you want me to hold this for two weeks like last time?”
Mary had a good laugh remembering. “My husband was always joking,” she said. “People would come in just to share a laugh with him. They loved him. When he was in the hospital, Robert Shivers cancelled all his appointments and went every day to sit with him. Then he and Dan Naranjo would come back here and bus tables and cashier while we were at the hospital.”
“After Julian died, I never wanted to go back to our old house,” Mary said. “Then one day, my daughter-in-law, Diana, was doing her usual walk down King William Street when she noticed a “For Sale” sign on the little house just across the street from hers. She came to get me to look at the house. The next thing I knew, it was mine. Pat Frost from Frost Bank personally helped us get the house. Dr. Ralph Wells was very pleased because he knows how stubborn I can be. He said he could keep a closer eye on me living right here in the neighborhood. It just worked out perfectly. But you know, I really do believe in miracles.”
“It’s a wonderful house,” she says. “Diana took charge of the restoration. She made it so it would have plenty of light and lots of open space for a small house. The kitchen is tiny, but who needs a kitchen? I’m just three blocks from the restaurant so if I want to cook, I go there.”
“My life in King William is a little piece of heaven.” Mary says. “I’m surrounded by loving family and friends – any one of whom I could call day or night if I needed them. What more could I possibly want?”
- Bill Cogburn