Mexican Mom, Gina, started her restaurant from her home, canning sauces, catering to different events, and cooking for those around her. She touches people with her home-cooked meals made with love and takes suggestions from her customers for new menu items. In this episode, Gina and her husband Jaime talk about the origins of their restaurant, their relationship with their customers, and how they’ve found success by being true to their nature.
On the Yelp Blog: Learn how Mexican Mom uses customer feedback to evolve its 5-star experience.
EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. On Behind the Review I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur and the reviewer about the story and business lessons behind their interactions.
This week, we are excited to feature Mexican Mom, an authentic Mexican restaurant, located in Spring, Texas and recommended by former Yelp employee Brett Nehls. Let’s see what’s behind this week’s review.
BRETT: As we were pulling up, my wife looked over and said, I think that’s the same exact building that we went to a few months ago. And it turned out that it was. And so our experience started off a little bit sad because we were sad for that business that they had closed down.
And it really just kind of goes to show why it is so hard for these small businesses. Even a place that is doing kind of like the main thing that you would think would be important for a restaurant, which is serving amazing food, it’s still such a struggle, such a fragile environment.
And that’s why I write a review for every single place that I go to because I know how hard it is and hopefully it can help them. So that’s how our experience started, right? And then we walk into Mexican Mom and they have completely, head to toe, end to end, renovated this building that we had been in a few months ago.
You would never know it’s the same place. It looks like something out of HGTV. Every little detail, like the ring for the napkin holders. Every part of this business is so meticulously crafted with such an elegant touch. It’s not cookie cutter at all. One thing they kept is the brick wall and it looks great. It blends in with all of the kind of modern stylings that they did. So aesthetic 10 out of 10. And it really kind of sets the mood for the food that you are soon to experience once you sit down. Somebody knew what they were doing here.
EMILY: That’s Brett N., telling us why he thinks it’s important to review every restaurant he goes to and describing his first encounter with Mexican Mom. Let’s hear Brett’s review.
BRETT: Why five stars? Because everything about the experience was high quality. I watched the glowing reviews piling in for Mexican Mom, and knew I had to check it out ASAP. So we recently headed down to Sawdust Road to see what all the hype was about. As we pulled into the parking lot, I had a bittersweet moment as my wife pointed out that this had taken over the space of a cajun restaurant that we really loved. And while that bummed us out, I’m happy to say that Mexican Mom has done some really great things with this space.
The interior looks like something you’d see on HGTV. While I love the food from the former tenant, everything was pretty dark and outdated. Now the space is open and bright. As for the food itself, this is a much more authentic Mexican cuisine than a lot of the TexMex places that you’ll find and at all of the different Gringos and Pappasitos of the world. All of the different Houston chains.
But just because it’s a bit different doesn’t mean that it’s not awesome. We started off with the Choriqueso, which was honestly the best thing that we tasted here. I could not have ever imagined coming back to Mexican Mom without ordering this, and I cannot recommend highly enough that you do the same.
My wife ordered the chicken quesadilla and I ordered the chicken enchilada. We both thought that the quesadilla was a little bit on the dry side at first, but once we added the pico de gallo, it made things much better. My enchilada was really great and it tasted super fresh. I did not feel like I just ate a pound of grease afterward, which is pretty standard after the usual TexMex experience in Houston. We finished with the chocolate trace leche, which was as awesome as it sounds. And, it looks just as great in the photo that I added. The service was great and the Mexican Mom herself came by our table a couple of times when she had a free moment. She was super friendly and she engaged our four year old and brought him some toys and stickers. These little touches make such a huge difference for a new business.
After one visit, I have no doubt this restaurant will be a massive success.
EMILY: What a thorough review! Brett covered so many different elements of his experience! The visuals, the food, the service, he really hit on it all.
And there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to create these memorable experiences at Mexican Mom. I sat down with Gina Antimo & Jaime Reverté, the husband and wife team behind Mexican Mom to hear their story.
GINA: I started this business a little more than 15 years ago and several reasons I started. He used to have a golf store and, well, he needed to have lunch and all his coworkers started like, can we have some of that lunch? Can we pay her?
So that’s when I started to see the need for everybody to have a good meal and house homemade meals. And that’s one little thing that caught my attention. And then, my kids started growing. I started having more time on my hands. So I started catering in that way, in a bigger scale.
I started doing Mexican – mostly Mexican. But as a little business started growing and started getting bigger and bigger, their needs were different. They wanted more Italian. It depended on the party. They were the theme, they were working on their party. So I started learning more cuisines, more techniques and that’s, that’s how we started.
And then we came to the Woodlands and my kids – it grew even more. They went to college, so the pandemic hit and then they needed Mom in some way. We couldn’t visit them, they couldn’t come to us. So I started thinking, how can I do it so they can have a little bit of home right there?
So I started learning how to can my sauces. So they can just see anything, fish, chicken, whatever, veggies, and just open the jar and have a little bit of mom right there in their kitchens. So that’s how the name started. Cause I’m a Mexican Mom. What can I tell you?
Always taking care of my babies, even if they’re old and they live on their own. But I still take care of them.
EMILY: I absolutely love this origin story, and if I’m being honest with you – there were multiple moments in this business owner interview that I teared up. Gina is such an incredible person and her love, warmth and passion radiated through my computer screen, so I can only imagine what it’s like to meet her in person and eat her food in her presence. Brett said that the most memorable part of his experience was being welcomed in as family rather than just a customer. Even as the business has grown, Gina still makes sure to step out from the kitchen and connect with her customers directly. And that makes an impact!
BRETT: What separates the experience from just any other place that maybe offers great service is that both times, Mexican Mom herself came out to talk to us afterward. And both times that we visited, she was pretty busy! Most of the tables were full. So the second visit, she didn’t even have any time. You can see there’s a kind of an open kitchen, so you could see her working away the whole time. And we actually were the last ones in there after the end of the lunch rush.
And she came out both times and she didn’t know me or who I was or that I was gonna be doing this podcast in a couple of days. I told her later, but she came out to the table the first time that we visited. Our son had recently broken his leg, and so he’s in a cast. It had just happened a few days earlier. And so we were all kind of sad and bummed out, and she just immediately came out and made him happy and brought him toys and, you know, just engaged with him. And you could tell within a moment that it was just, naturally her and who she is.
EMILY: These touchpoints with guests, and the balancing act of being in the kitchen while also connecting with customers is made possible by the interior of her restaurant, which was intentionally designed to make a welcoming and family-like atmosphere.
GINA: There’s a party every day. It’s like they’re being in your house every day. It’s like having your friends and family every day at home. You just don’t see it, but you still enjoy it. Because my joy is being there, cooking and having everything ready. And if they don’t like it, I’ll switch it. And if they want something specific, I will do it for them. If they don’t feel like it, if they don’t want spicy, if they’re sick, I make a chicken soup. Whatever they want.
That’s why the open kitchen concept. Because I still wanted to interact with people. I didn’t wanna be on the back in a kitchen by myself. No, no, no, no, no. I wanted to interact. And that’s, that’s the best part of my place that I’m here, I’m still here. I’m everybody’s mom.
JAIME: One thing that I always tell Gina that I’ve noticed since we open the restaurant is that sometimes I’m the waiter in the afternoons, cause we have a waiter in the morning and I have another business, but in the afternoons I’m always here and I see people coming that they had a bad day, they went through some bad news.
I do see that they’re in a bad mood. You see that they’re actually, you know, very serious. They don’t wanna talk. They’re like doubting about a Mexican restaurant. Cause you know, everything in Texas, almost all the restaurants in Texas are TexMex. So they see this menu and they kind of feel strange because they were expecting TexMex, they weren’t expecting authentic Mexican food.
And I always tell you now that it’s amazing how they start. The transformation starts once you start giving the appetizers. And then they start getting, oh no, I’m gonna have a beer, then I have a beer. They said, oh, so what you recommend? I recommend, or whatever Gina decided to cook this week. And at the end of the day, at the end of their meal, they’re happy and smiling and they’re saying, Hey!
And I always tell Gina, go talk to your customer. Cause you’re Mexican Mom. She comes out and she says, eh. Oh yes! Even if she’s busy, she’s super busy. She’ll come out and talk to the guests. Because we don’t call customers. And they’ll be happy to meet her. And they leave with a big smile. And I always tell Gina, I don’t know what your food does, that actually transforms the day of the people.
They come in one way and they leave a completely different way. So that’s something that really stands up for me.
EMILY: Like the environment, Brett says the food he eats at Mexican Mom makes him feel energized and happy.
BRETT: As a professional eater of an exorbitant amount of food on the weekends, I have had many experiences where maybe the food is great, but then like afterward you’re feeling the pain of like, oh, I ate a lot of food, right? On both of my visits to Mexican Mom, I ate, felt completely satisfied, walked out of there, and honestly didn’t even feel like I just ate. In terms of you can, I couldn’t tell you what the fresh ingredients are. Again, I’m a novice in the kitchen myself, but you can tell when two hours after eating a really big meal, you feel great. And that’s how it was for my wife and I both times that we visited.
EMILY: And there is a reason why Brett feels so great after every meal at Mexican Mom! Gina and Jaime emphasize that they only use fresh ingredients for better quality and taste.
GINA: I always try to cook with, with fresh ingredients. It’s easier. It is cheaper. You always have an onion. You always have garlic, you always have tomatoes. Just put ’em together and there’s flavor. You don’t need those powders and those things that you cannot pronounce. No, no. You can have a thing. It’s easy.
JAIME: She personally goes every week to buy all the ingredients. We don’t get a big truck outside delivering all the frozen food that all these big companies do. That’s something that she decided from the start she was never gonna do.
Everything was gonna be fresh ingredients and cooked at the moment. This is not a fast food establishment. It’s a restaurant and it’s gonna take you 20 minutes to get your plate because it’s personally cooked by her or supervised by her so that the food is fresh and perfectly made.
EMILY: In addition to keeping things fresh in the kitchen, Gina likes to encourage customers to be experimental with trying new foods. She offers a rotating menu, taking requested items from customers or new foods.
GINA: Nowadays, I do the pictures – so they know what they’re getting. Because the title’s in Spanish and then, they read it in English, but they don’t envision it. What is it? How does it look? What color is it? What’s in it? So I printed pictures.
And you know what’s been happening, A lot of my guests come back and they say, when are you gonna have the mole? When are you gonna have those black things? And yes, those, when are you gonna have the…
Yesterday he told me, when are you gonna have the fish sonata? So they even remember the name. They’ve never tried it before and they remember the name cuz they loved it so much. So they come back and ask for it.
And I say, when do you want it? Next week? Yes, next week. And even Mexicans, they come and they say, okay, I’m from Sinoa and my mom used to make this for me. Can you make it? Yes. When do you want it? I’ll be outta town, but I will be here in two weeks. Okay, two weeks. Check my menu and it’ll be there. So, that to me, it’s fantastic.
I love it. I love it. That’s the best part of my job that they even asked me for things that I have tried or that they had at home, but many years ago, and I bring them back and they. A lady just cried. She was having memories, and “my mom used to make this fideo soup. My mom used to make this corn soup. She said, exactly the way my mom used to make this corn soup.” So, yes, I love it.
But it takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of planning because I need to see first, believe it or not, the weather. It’s, if it’s gonna be a hundred degrees outside, like in Texas, nobody’s gonna wanna soup. And what’s gonna happen, if it’s teachers week, if it’s gonna be mother’s week. So I think ok, kids don’t have school – they might come. So I’m gonna have something kids will like. And that’s a lot of planning. And, the ingredients, in order to have them fresh I sometimes use them for two different things in two completely different ways. So I get the big boxes, but we use it in two different ways in two days or so. That’s a lot of planning and thinking.
EMILY: Through this rotating menu, Brett was able to taste a fusion of a Texas classic and Mexican flavors: the Mexican chicken fried steak. Sounds life-changing!
BRETT: Something that’s great about Mexican Mom is they have a weekly menu that changes every week in addition to their kind of set and stone regular items that they offer. And, I had a very active morning, played some basketball, and was still in a fasted state.
I was ready to just say, I’ll take three of everything off the menu. And then I looked. I wasn’t sure what to get. I wanted to try something different – as much as I loved the enchiladas the first time. And there was something on the menu, and it was called on the weekly menu, it was called Mila and Salsa Marto.
Which is Mexican chicken fried steak for any Houstonian or probably Texan in general. Chicken fried steak is a staple item on many menus in the area. I’ve had many, many countless experiences at Mexican restaurants, and I’ve had more chicken fried steaks than I can remember. I’ve never had Mexican chicken fried steak, and I’m here to tell you it was the perfect marriage of Mexican food and chicken fried steak. Truly.
I think that anyone hearing this, if you go to Mexican Mom, you might need to like, reach out to them ahead of time on Yelp or on social media and say, tell me that the Mexican chicken fried steak is available this week. Check the season, check the weekly venue. Maybe do a special request. Maybe it’ll eventually be on the permanent menu. This was one of the best things I’ve eaten in the past year.
EMILY: Although Brett’s review was mostly glowing, he made sure to add one piece of advice for one of Mexican Mom’s menu items.
BRETT: Both of us took a couple of bites of it and we were like, I had to, it’s a little dry. And then I don’t know if the pico had like accidentally got moved off to the side or something, but we just kind of forgot about it. And so, I feel bad that if the owner is reading that and is thinking, well did you add the pico?
But also for the consumer, I don’t want them to make the same mistake that we did because sometimes you don’t really think about that. Like maybe you just start chowing down on the quesadilla. So I want everybody to know both the consumer and the business owner. But you know that it’s really a testament to how great Mexican Mom was both times that we visited that really, that was the only thing that we could think of is that for half a minute, we didn’t completely love something and then everything else was heaven on earth.
EMILY: Brett is someone who makes sure to write reviews for every restaurant he goes to, and he says that it’s very important for him to remain respectful when offering his opinion. He knows that any sort of criticism is difficult to accept, and he tries his best to make his comments helpful to the business owners. And to potential consumers.
BRETT: I really just try to think of like, if I were the business owner reading this, what would be the most helpful to them? And especially when I do have to write a review that has maybe some criticisms in it, I always try to be as constructive as possible. Again, thinking of if the business owner was standing right next to me and said, I want you to be honest. Tell me what you thought. I would say it to them. I write it the same way that I would say it to their face.
EMILY: Sometimes, criticism can even be more helpful than positivity. In this case, Gina was able to take Brett’s advice into consideration and revamp the menu item.
By taking the criticism as friendly advice as opposed to something personal or harmful, Gina was able to make quality improvements.
GINA: When I read his comment, that’s when he clicked to me. Okay, it was on the dry side. Perfect. I love it. Because maybe nobody was, or maybe people were afraid to tell me, oh, your quesadilla wasn’t the best. You know what? I fixed it because of him and his beautiful comment, and now I heard people coming and saying, I want the chicken quesadilla because they are the best chicken quesadillas.
What I did, I said, okay. Let’s do one quesadilla with chicken in green salsa and one quesadilla in red salsa and mix them and put ’em together. And now you have a mix in between enchilada and a quesadilla. So they are the best quesadilla. The best chicken quesadilla. Yes. And thanks to him and I, yes. That’s why I read them all.
And yeah, it didn’t break my heart because I knew it wasn’t the best. I knew, but it helped me a lot to improve my cooking. I loved it. I really loved it. I really appreciate it. And there you go! One thing led to another, and here we are talking about exactly that same thing with you.
EMILY: It’s admirable how Gina is able to create an environment where requests and comments from customers are valued. Brett says you can really tell that she and Jaime view every person that steps into their restaurant as family.
BRETT: I can’t reiterate enough that you go to Mexican Mom, you’re gonna have great food, but you’re gonna feel like you’re a member of the family, even if you’re a stranger. And you don’t get that very often. And it’s really no wonder why as we have this conversation, Mexican Mom has 34 reviews and 33 of them are five stars.
EMILY : And while some businesses define success by when they get to open that second location, for others, success is filling the space they already have and leveraging reservations to maximize the use of the space. There isn’t one cookie cutter definition of what the success of a business is and there shouldn’t be!
GINA: I’m happy with the amount of people I can take care of because if we grew up, how am I gonna do it? I want to take care of everybody the way I’m doing it, the way they’re feeling it. That I’m making with these two little hands. I’m making every dish, every plate and supervising every detail.