Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Chris Madrid’s will be open for business with limited hours this week after a two-year hiatus. Interested customers should check the restaurant’s Facebook page for updates, a representative said.
The restaurant is closed on Sundays but will be open for the next couple of days from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and again from 5 to 8 p.m. Regular operating hours will return soon and a grand opening is scheduled for Oct. 15. that will also raise funds for area nonprofits.
A fire in October 2017 ripped through the building at 1900 Blanco Rd., forcing the new owners to close and renovate. But the Madrid family rallied to help them rebuild – physically and emotionally.
Carolyn Madrid had no idea that Chris Madrid would one day open an iconic San Antonio burger joint when she met him. To be fair, they were both attending Robert E. Lee High School (now L.E.E. High School) when she met and started dating her late husband, she said.
“We were dating, and he told me that he wanted to open a restaurant,” said Carolyn, who knew Chris’ father sold restaurant equipment. “I said, okay, go for it.”
Chris, who died in 2012 at the age of 61, opened the restaurant in 1977. Carolyn cooked, cleaned, prepared food and supply orders, and took on accounting work for the business for decades.
Carolyn sold the burger business to local restaurateur and real estate investor Richard Peacock in September 2017, but she still considers it a “family business.”
After Chris died, Carolyn continued to run the near-North Side restaurant with the help of her son-in-law Bryce Waller, who is married to Chris and Carolyn’s daughter, Lisa.
Bryce didn’t know anything about running a restaurant, he said. His true calling was ministry. Luckily, he met and befriended Peacock, who owns Paloma Blanca Mexican Cuisine Restaurant in Alamo Heights, at a volunteer meeting for their daughters’ elementary school.
“I mentored him in restaurants, and he mentored me in Jesus,” Peacock said with a laugh.
The Madrid family didn’t plan on selling the business, but as their friendship grew with Peacock and his wife Brooke, they decided to ask them if they wanted to buy it, Carolyn said.
“For us, the most important thing in leaving the restaurant was being able to look our employees and customers in the eyes and be able to say that we pass this on to someone that we trust,” Bryce said.
“If that person doesn’t exist, then we’re not going to sell it,” Lisa said.
“We knew before the fire that what they were entrusting to us was this legacy – not just the recipes, not just the place, but the entirety of what they had created,” Peacock said. “The heart of which was really relationships. … We didn’t come in here thinking we’re going to put our stamp on things.”
The deal closed in September 2017. The fire occurred 45 days later.
The typical response from a family in the Madrids’ situation would have been to offer condolences, but stay out of it, Peacock said. After all, the deal was done – they no longer had any financial obligation to stick around.
He paused to hold back tears.
“Not only did they not walk away from us, they ran towards us,” he said. “It reaffirmed how fortunate we are that there was a fire – and that is a crazy thing to say.”
“… There have been so many blessing that have come about as a result of this – and that’s not what the world expects,” he added. “It speaks volumes about the Madrids that they would stick around.”
And in turn, the Peacocks aren’t running away from Chris’ legacy,” he said. “We’re embracing it.”
Part of that was keeping about 30 employees that worked there before the sale on the payroll, he said. Over the past two years, most stuck it out by working in the temporary structure and food truck.
“We decided if they wanted to hang in there with us, we would hang in there with them,” Peacock said.
But Chris’ sister Diana Madrid, who worked at the restaurant for about 40 years, decided to leave. She opened up Diana’s Burgers earlier this year, two miles southwest from Chris Madrid’s near Woodlawn Lake.
“We went to great lengths to try to convey to her that we wanted her to stay and that, if she did stay, she would have an important role to play, and, unfortunately, she decided not to stay,” Peacock said. “We’re not angry at all with her. We’re really disappointed in how it ended up with her.”
Diana did not respond to several interview requests.
Her burgers, as many food reviewers have noted, are similar to those at Chris Madrid’s. The cheese oozes from both burgers, but opinions can vary on whose is ultimately better. On a recent afternoon, the restaurant was modestly busy even after a lunch-hour rush.
The outside of renovated Chris Madrid’s features new signage and a fresh coat of white paint but maintains the shape of the original complete with hodgepodge roof heights. Inside, you’d be hard-pressed to find glaring evidence of the remodel. The bar in the back room was moved from the center to the west wall. The front counter, where hungry customers line up to order, was shifted to allow more room.
A friend of the Madrid family, who grew up going to the restaurant, broke down into tears when she visited last week, Lisa said, because of how true-to-form the building was.
She and Peacock acknowledged that many are afraid to lose the original Chris Madrid’s.
“I think people are scared that their memories are somehow going to be erased, or they’re not going to have future memories here,” Lisa said. “But that’s not going to be the case.”
Inside, the familiar T-shirts from various businesses, charities, and sports teams with signatures from supporters still line the wood-panel walls. Most of the T-shirts were salvaged from the fire but they’ve picked up more since their call for them on social media. Christmas lights still hang on the threshold between the main dining area and the bar.
The menu will continue to feature the classics like the massive Macho Burger, the tostada bean burger, and hand-cut fries, but will also feature some new additions, Peacock said.
The renovation brought a larger kitchen, an outdoor patio, and a 2,000-square-foot party room immediately east of the restaurant. Peacock purchased the house that was located there, moved it, and donated it to a local family, he said, to make room for the expansion.
Lisa welcomes the changes, she said, because these are things Chris “always talked about doing … but never got a chance.”
The renovation took much longer than expected, Peacock said, because of the age of the buildings.
“Every time we would tear a wall down we would find a surprise,” Peacock said. The entire bar had to be rebuilt as one wall was using the sidewalk as a foundation and rotting wood behind the interior panels of most other walls had to be replaced, he said. “Most of that work [the average customer] won’t even notice.”
But aesthetics is not what rebuilding was about, he said. “The building is really a tool. It’s not the thing. Even the burgers, as great as they are, it’s really just a means to an end.”
The goal is to continue the legacy of “bringing the neighborhood together,” he said.
Chris was charismatic and relished in the diversity of his clientele, Carolyn noted. It’s a place where you could find a surgeon sitting next to a cab driver.
“One thing that I’ve learned is that [Peacock and his] family have the same heart that Chris did,” she said. “Our families will continue to walk together and serve the community – and still make good burgers.”