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Martin Garza was a farmer turned restaurateur.
Alongside his wife and children, Martin lived in the country where he worked for Wayne Carpenter as a farmer. However, the Garza family soon found themselves uprooting and moving to town where they rented a house from Mr. Bland. Around 1977, Martin, having dreamed of owning his own business, ended up buying 701 North Broadway from his landlord Mr. Bland and starting a successful restaurant affectionately named El Matamoros after his hometown Matamoros, Mexico.
“I remember the grand opening,” Bill Martinez said. “Danny Guthrie and his playboys played.”
Wife Hiawatha and children Mary Lou, Arthur and Norma, alongside aunts and other family members, helped run the restaurant.
“It was a family business,” Mary Lou said.
However, tragedy soon struck. On a trip to visit family in Arlington, the Garza’s returned to discover their house had burnt down. But upon unfortunate circumstances, the Garza’s, with help from the children’s uncle, built a second story on top of El Matamoros in a total of two months; a second story that they would call home.
Mary Lou, only around 13-years-old at the time, and Norma, only 9-years-old, would work in the restaurant straight out of school.
“Us kids would do our homework during breaks,” Mary Lou said.
While the kids would take over, Hiawatha, whose family and customers alike referred to as Mama, would take a well-deserved rest from 4:00 to 6:30 every day.
“Mama worked from sunup to sundown,” Mary Lou said.
Other family such as Mary Lou’s paternal grandmother and aunts also helped around the restaurant.
“My dedicated mom, aunts, cousins, friends and we, as kids, worked very hard to make it a success,” Mary Lou said.
In fact, Barbara Torres, a day one employee, soon became Barbara Martinez and an aunt of Mary Lou’s while working at El Matamoros.
“I worked at the restaurant as a cook in 1977 until it was sold,” Barbara said.
While there, Barbara, along with others, met many musical talents including Dottie West and Joe Bravo.
Mary Lou can remember Dottie West singing “I Was Raised on Country Sunshine” and autographing a picture for them.
Along with the live music, DPS Trooper Gary Briley and Deputy Joe Simpson reminisced about the jukebox where they would play “Hello Mary Lou” by Ricky Nelson.
Every Friday and Saturday, the restaurant would close late, sometimes closing at 2:00 a.m. Law enforcement would check in on the ladies and young girls who closed late and always made sure they were safe. Therefore, Martin started offering law enforcement a meal for a dollar.
One day, Simpson told Mama that he wanted beans, peppers, and meat wrapped in a tortilla and topped with her homemade chili and cheese and the Joe’s Special was born.
“I always felt like I was family there,” Simpson said. “Even if their little brother called me Joe Mama.”
The Joe’s Special was so popular that when the restaurant was sold to the Chapa family, the menu was handed over to them as well due to the costumers’ requests to keep the Joe’s Special alive.
The Joe’s Special was only one of El Matamoros’ top selling items. The other two where the Shamrock Special and the half-round steak.
The Shamrock special was created by Don Ellenberger who worked across the street at the Shamrock Gas Station that was owned by Junior Foster. The Shamrock Special was a tortilla filled with sausage, egg and cheese.
“This was before people sold breakfast burritos,” Mary Lou explained why the Shamrock Special was such a big hit.
As for the half-round steak, Mary Lou said her mom would season it just so and that’s why it appealed to their customers.
The Garza’s looked out for their customers and Martin was known for helping the less fortunate.
Settled right next to the main highway running through Post, Martin and his family saw many people who needed their help. Whether they were hungry or needed gas, at El Matamoros they were taken care of.
“Dad was generous and would help people out all of the time,” Mary Lou said.
In return, their customers looked out for them.
“These people treated us like their own kids,” Mary Lou said. “I can’t count how many times Ed Sawyers and Jimmy Holleman took us kids to school because our restaurant was full of customers and Daddy couldn’t get away! I am so thankful for them.”
Another couple of customers Mary Lou and her family will never forget is Joe and Lois Poe.
Joe was a local welder and a daily customer of El Matamoros. One day, he and his wife Lois gifted Mary Lou a brass cross from Germany. Scripted on the bottom was a noted that said, “May the Lord bless you Mary Lou.”
The cross stayed behind the cash register on a shelf and when El Matamoros closed Mary Lou made sure to keep it close to her side.
“It is very sentimental to me,” she said. “After all these years, that cross sits on a table that is visible as soon as you walk into my home.”
While here, her father owned two other restaurants. He owned Martin’s Restaurant that was just two blocks north of Holly’s and a steak house on U.S. 380.
“We were very fortunate,” Mary Lou said. “I want to thank all who worked for us and most importantly – our faithful customers and our first responders that kept us safe.”
Although the building that was once not only their restaurant, but also their home, is gone, the family, as well as the community, will never forget the legacy it left behind.
“This restaurant left many memories, but also a legend to remember it by,” Barbara said.
And that legend was that everyone felt like family.
“We met so many people,” Mary Lou said. “And they all felt like family. The community was family.”