The Barrios family’s new restaurant on Westover Hills Boulevard, Viola’s Ventanas, came to life with a series of soft openings this week.
While the grand opening is today, May 18, servers and cooks raced through their practice paces as finishing touches were laid on the building, the patio under the shade of old live oaks and a play area for children, called “the Park.”
Viola’s Ventanas is the Barrios family’s third restaurant and it’s named in memory of their mother, Viola Barrios, who died five years ago.
As the restaurant was presented to gathered guests at a preview Friday evening, it was also blessed with prayer. Not only were Viola Barrios’ children and grandchildren present, many said they felt Viola’s spirit there with them as well. This restaurant, the family says, is Viola’s, but also a restaurant for all moms, kids and families.
Her portrait holds a place of honor on a wall, where her kind face can look over and approve of those who are enjoying their food. Outside, stones in the fountain express what her son Louis Barrios called her “mantra”: They are inscribed with the Spanish words amor, fe and alegria, or love, faith and joy.
Her daughters, Diana Barrios-Treviño and Dr. Teresa Barrios-Ogden, along with their children, listened as Louis Barrios talked about not only her great love for them, but also her courage in the face of what seemed like overwhelming adversity when their father died.
In 1975, Jose Barrios was 46 and the sole support of the family when he was killed in an automobile accident caused by a drunken driver.
“We went from upper middle class to lower middle class in a day,” Louis Barrios recalled. As the family mourned their loss, Viola dealt with the realities that come with the death of a spouse; and she formulated a plan, as she alone would have to support her family now.
She decided to open a restaurant. This she did with an investment of $3,000, with cast-off dishes and silverware, in an old boat garage in near Avenue B and Jones Street. It didn’t even have parking, as Barrios recalled.
What Viola Barrios did have, in addition to compelling necessity and prodigious cooking skills, were faith, joy and love.
On a quick kitchen tour at Viola’s Ventanas, Diana Barrios-Treviño and her husband, Roland Treviño, pointed out the long counters and equipment, gleaming stainless steel, ice bins, pan racks and much more.
Roland Treviño purchased this equipment, which looked nearly new, for a fraction of what it would have cost from the the former Brasserie Pavil. If some of the lighting fixtures in the dining room look familiar, those came from the now-defunct restaurant as well. Viola, one knows, would have looked quite approvingly this prudent purchase.
An even closer connection to Viola is a modest work table that sits toward the back part of the restaurant. Treviño dug this table out of storage where his mother-in-law had put it years ago, saying at the time, “I’ll want to use it someday.” After removing a metal rack attached to the table, replacing the deteriorated wood work surface, painting the metal pipe legs and replacing old casters with snappy new red ones, he put it in place in the kitchen.
When he brought his wife to see it, the two of them ended up in tears. And they were pretty sure Viola’s spirit was with them then, too.
Before dinner, restaurant guests were invited to go outside for the dedication. City councilmen Diego Bernal, Ray Lopez and W. Reed Williams as well as Texas Secretary of State John Steen offered their words of congratulation as did friends who helped with securing the property, Charles “Marty” and Rene Wender. Father Saturnino Lago from the Oblate School of Theology said a blessing.
Diana Barrios-Treviño also presented the third recipient of a scholarship from Viola’s Huge Heart Foundation, which will pay for four years of school at the Antonian High School. The young woman to receive this scholarship, Daniella Cisneros, was so grateful she also teared up as the presentation drew to a close.
Viola, as charitable with others as she was with her family, would have been proud of Daniella as well, said Barrios-Treviño. “She is a beautiful example of another little Viola.”
And then, dinner was served.
Viola’s Ventanas opens Saturday, May 18, at 11 a.m. It is at 9660 Westover Hills Blvd. between Highway 151 and Culebra Road.