co-owner, house.wine. & bistro. and
Salt-New American Table
1) What item would you not travel without? There are quite a few that are on my checklist. But the one I would never travel without is my wife. I wouldn’t know where to go, what to do next, where the good places to eat are if Jessica hadn’t planned them out before we left.
2) What is your greatest passion? If you ask me today, that has to be my children. The old cliché that your life turns upside down when kids come is true. I often was critical of my friends who said things like that, and lo and behold, it happened to me. It certainly changed my perspective on everything.
3) Where do you go for your favorite meal? Ahhh…food, my other passion! At one point it might have been the greatest, but it’s been superceded by my wife and children. My favorite meals are always those that are surrounded by family. It’s not necessarily the food on the plate, but the company I’m with that really makes a dining experience.
4) Who or what have been the main influences in your life/career? Both my father and my mother. I learned to cook in my mother’s kitchen and discovered the Mexican flavors. I learned to cook by taste, and by doing, learning the touch rather than following recipes. I attribute my love of cooking and passion for food to my mom. From my dad I learned humility and loyalty. He’s the perfect representation of both. He and my mom will be celebrating 50 years of marriage. He retired after 40 years with the same company. Both of those things are not often celebrated.
5) Who is a person you admire the most? Why? It again goes back to my parents. Both my parents came from huge families and, at one point, were farm workers. They were both middle children among 10 brothers and sisters. Challenges come with being middle children in large families and being forced to grow up probably sooner than he had to in the 50s and 60s. They were both hard workers and sacrificed everything for their family. My folks worked their fingers to the bone to make sure we had everything that we possibly needed. I can’t think of anything more admirable than committing your life to one another and to God the way they have.
6) What do you see on your horizon in seven years? I’m looking forward to baseball and soccer tournaments, ballet and dance recitals.
7) What do you do for fun? I love to fish although I don’t get to do it that often. I love the outdoors, anything outdoors. I love to shoot skeet and clay pigeons. I like to get out on the golf course every now and again. I used to fish twice a month before the babies were born. I’ve probably fished twice in the last three years.
8) What do you do to exercise? I exercise at Orange Theory Fitness. It’s a high-intensity integral training that involves a lot of cardio and some weight training. I try to get three or four one-hour long sessions in a week, focused on heart rate. Today I feel great.
9) Where would you most like to travel? Jessica and I have had Italy in our sights for so many years. It’s definitely on our bucket list. I’d love to travel in Tuscany. I just want to travel the countryside, drink delicious wine and make pasta with some Italian grandmas.
10) What’s your favorite car? Betsy! She’s a Jeep Wrangler, a 2003 soft-top, oversized wheels, custom bumper, winch, KC lights. She’s still in my driveway. When you have to make your own roads, old Betsy, she’ll get you there.
11) A favorite song? My favorite song has to be “Herman the Worm!” My kids dig it and it’s our favorite road trip sing-a-long.
12) Are there any rules you follow for success? Every year I challenge my team with a new concept, a fresh vision, a fresh outlook or take on operating the business. This year our motto has been three simple two-word sentences: Be Relentless, Be Intentional, Be Brilliant. The first two really lead to the last. I think you could take those two concepts and apply them to anything you do, whether it’s business, school, or education, raising your family. If you’re intentional in your actions and you’re relentless in achieving your goals, then the brilliance follows.
13) Who are two people you would like to dine with? I’d like to dine with 18-year-old me. That guy could use a little bit of advice. I often wondered when the light clicked for me in this industry. There were certain moments in my life I can really pin-point and reflect upon: that was when I started feeling a passion for food, or this is when I fell in love with the industry and the rush and adrenaline of operating a restaurant. But at 18 I don’t really think I knew anything, what direction I wanted to go in life. I think the 18 year-old-me would get a kick out of 43 year old me, and vice-versa.
The second person who comes to mind is Anthony Bourdain. I read his book, Kitchen Confidential, back in 2000. It had just come out. I was just getting started in the restaurant industry and going to school in Austin as a biology major. I wasn’t certain which path I was going to take, but I was working in the restaurant industry and I knew I liked it. I had a passion for food and people. Reading that book kind of made it okay to pursue the restaurant industry as a career. I think Anthony Bourdain did that for a lot of people. It made being in this industry acceptable and really paved the way. I think it would have been an incredible experience to break bread with him.
14) If you could, would you change anything about your life? If it’s possible, I’d love to have a work week that was about a third of what it is now and have the opportunity to spend the bulk of my day with my family. Spending my days with wife and kids would be great. I’m loving life. I love the Valley. I love our businesses. We have two beautiful kids. They’re healthy. We’ve got a great marriage. I have a great wife. We don’t really want for anything but time. I wish I had more time.
15) What is your favorite thing to cook? Delicious. People I meet for the first time often ask, “What’s your specialty?” in your restaurants and my playful response is, “Delicious!”
Imagine the Masa-bilities!
They are doing it again! Larry and Jessica are opening another restaurant, a Mexican restaurant!
“The concept we’re aiming for is unlike any Mexican restaurant we’ve seen here in recent years,” Larry said. “We’re steering far away from Tex-Mex with a focus on interior Mexican flavors, but no specific region. There will be specific nostalgic flavors of Mexico that haven’t been celebrated in this region much. This truly will bring my career full circle, going back to the first cuisine I learned and loved to cook.”
Plans are for a bar to have a large, open window looking into the kitchen to watch the food preparation.
“We’ll be making a variety of tortillas from different corns, making our own masa from blue, red, and yellow corn. Not only will we have a variety of corn, but we’ll have a variety of flavors which we’ll incorporate into the masa, whether it’s huitlacoche (corn truffle) or achioté (paste from annato seed).”
Taking the name from McAllen’s history, the restaurant will be called Salomé.
“We truly hope to be a celebration of McAllen’s history, a celebration of our own culture and heritage, and a celebration of Mexico, past, present and future,” Larry continued. “Solomé Balli was the great grand-daughter of one of the first land owners in the mid 1800s. She inherited and purchased the Santa Anita Ranch, which is now known as McAllen Ranch and part of the city of McAllen. Solomé Balli de Young McAllen married an Irish immigrant by the name of John McAllen after her first husband, John Young, passed. John McAllen donated land to the railroad and later formed the McAllen Townsite. Her heritage is all but forgotten and we intend to celebrate it.”
Planning to open by the end of the year at 1409 North Main, Larry, Jessica, and their team are sure to have another hit using the method of nixtamalization to process their corn by hand and making it oh, so tempting for their customers’ palates!