Iris Dimmick / Rivard Report
Chris Madrid’s family has owned and operated his namesake restaurant since he opened it in 1977. Forty years later, his widow and children have decided to sell the iconic near Northside business to restaurateur and real estate investor Richard Peacock.
“I’m not sad because I have every confidence that the Peacock family will carry on the tradition,” Carolyn Madrid told the Rivard Report on Friday after the first lunch service under new ownership. Her husband, Chris, died suddenly in 2012 of an enlarged heart at age 61. The Madrid tradition, she said, is “making a burger like you’re making it for a friend with love.”
Peacock, a former real estate broker, opened Paloma Blanca almost 20 years ago and it has become a staple for the Alamo Heights community. The Madrids may not have used the same words, Peacock said, but they share the same philosophy that “at our core, we are not in the restaurant business … we’re in the relationship business.”
The two families – Peacock’s wife, siblings, and friends will be involved – gathered the restaurant’s employees Friday morning to announce the sale and deliver a letter of thanks and assurance from Carolyn Madrid and her children Michael and Lisa.
“I think it went really well,” Madrid said. “A couple of them have questions … but everybody gets to keep their job.”
They passed out a list of “obvious questions and answers” that outlines some anticipated concerns about the transition. Click here to download.
Basically, Peacock plans on business as usual – big “Macho” burgers, fries, and drinks – but wants to update the facilities.
“If they had kept the restaurant, they were going to freshen it up,” he said. “But in terms of the core things that make Madrid’s special – the attitude, service, recipes, menu … we would never change that.”
Are they going to keep the shirts covered with customer signatures that blanket the interior walls? “Absolutely.”
One major change to the burger joint under Peacock’s ownership is the departure of Bryce Waller, the director of operations who is married to Madrid’s daughter Lisa. He and his family will be moving to Austin as he follows his true calling in life: ministry.
He took a job as associate pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian after a long period of reflection and family discussion. The restaurant business was never something he imagined doing, Waller said, but he ended up enjoying it immensely.
Madrid took over the business after her husband died, and Waller, Lisa, and Michael stepped in when it became too much for her in 2014.
“There was a point when I thought I just want to close the place,” Madrid said. “But I couldn’t do that because of my employees,” some of whom have worked there for decades.
Waller had landed a ministry job in San Antonio, but it fell through. The timing was perfect for Chris Madrid’s and he started working at the restaurant full time.
But staying meant a complete change of career and direction of their lives, Waller said. “There was a lot of thought and prayer and getting advice from friends … ultimately we came to the decision that we believe it’s important we do what we are called to do.”
He is called to ministry.
“I love my job here … but it’s best for the restaurant if someone who has been gifted and called to this [business] takes over,” he said.
Peacock was one of the friends whom Waller consulted during his deliberations. Their sons attended the same elementary school, so they knew each other long before the thought arose of selling Chris Madrid’s. Having zero experience beyond serving tables in college, Waller also leaned on Peacock for management advice.
“I about fell out of my chair,” Peacock said, when Waller asked if he would be interested in buying. Purchasing and then running a restaurant is no simple task, but “I never got to a point where I doubted [the decision to buy],” he said.
A big part of his faith in Chris Madrid’s is rooted in the customer base, Peacock said. “This is a diverse swath of San Antonio.”
No two tables during lunch Friday were alike. There were men in suits, families with five children, young couples and old.
“It’s truly the crossroads of San Antonio,” Peacock said. “You’ll have an attorney sitting next to an electrician sitting next a student next to a retiree.”
Chris Madrid himself was all about building relationships – with staff, customers, and anyone he encountered.
“He probably greeted you first-hand and asked you how your son was faring in college or if your grandmother had recovered from surgery,” states the letter sent out to employees that will be published on the restaurant’s website.
“He was at every ballet recital and ballgame … a great dad and I think what made his business so special is that he was so friendly and focused on the customer,” Waller said. And he kept the menu simple. “He just wanted to do one thing well.”
News of the restaurant owner’s unexpected death rippled throughout the community, and many stopped by the restaurant with flowers and other tokens of remembrance and appreciation, Waller said.
“There was a great outpouring of affection,” he said. “It was a shock. He wasn’t sick, he was in good health. … His own father passed away six weeks before he did.”
Chris Madrid was found in his home one Sunday morning in March 2012. High blood pressure caused his heart to expand, a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
People will remember his unwavering energy, dedication to his children, and unending supply of smiles for decades. His sister Diana has worked there for almost 40 years and will likely continue.
The transition meeting Friday morning was emotional, Waller said. “One of the saddest parts about this is that it’s a weird mix of emotions. The only reason that any of this is happening is that Chris is not here anymore.
“But in the wake of that sadness, to be able to pass the business to a friend who has the same values as we have as a family, who has experience as a restaurateur, a great team behind him, respect in the community. … We’re lucky,” he said.
But Peacock isn’t sure he’s ready for the “restaurateur” title yet.
“It makes me sound like I know more than I do,” he quipped.