Fueling The Folks Who Fuel The Corpus Christi Area After Hurricane Harvey

Sep 1, 2017

When storms hit a community, it’s up to a select group of people to stay at work.

First responders might come to mind. But there are also the folks who keep the lights on as long as they can, and then fix them once they’re down. Those workers need food, and many in and around Corpus Christi were able to find it from a familiar place just after the storm.

Gordo’s American Eats sits in the middle of an industrial area in Corpus Christi. Tucked in the relative safety of the Coastal Bend’s biggest city during the storm, the restaurant was able to get up and running shortly after Harvey hit — and help the city get up and running.

“A lot of these guys are coming into work every day," said Manuel “Manny” Gutierrez, one of the three partners who own Gordo’s. “Republic Waste Services is right across from us. Those guys have been going out to Portland and to the surrounding areas to remove debris and trash from the storm. And those guys got to eat.”

Manny Gutierrez, co-owner at Gordos American Eats in Corpus Christi.
Credit Martin do Nascimento/KUT

Word spread quickly that they were cooking Sunday and the orders got bigger and bigger.

“One taco turned into 10, 10 turned in 20, and then 50 and then up to 100,” Gutierrez said.

The winds and rain, from what was at that point Tropical Storm Harvey, were still battering the area when a call came from the Citgo refinery.

“They had all their employees on hand, man,” he said. “Everybody working double. A lot of those guys were sleeping on cots in their offices. I saw it firsthand. She calls and says, ‘Hey, man, we gotta feed our guys, you know. They’ve been living on cookies and water and sandwiches. Can you provide a hot meal?’ I said, ‘Absolutely!’ Basically, fueling the fuel that’s fueling Corpus Christi. And that was big for us.”

And even when there are no storms, this restaurant has been feeding the folks who hold the place together for a long time. Before Manny and his partners started Gordo’s in the spring, they bought the building from Scott Bibeau. For 37 years, Bibeau’s Soup-er Bowl fed the city’s industrial workers.

“So, after he was ready to retire, for the first week and a half, he stood by our side and gave us his blessing,” said Gutierrez. “He told the community these boys are the real thing, they’re really doing their best. Give them a chance.”

Finally, after leaving the restaurant and his menu — and all those years of getting up early and cooking — Scott Bibeau retired to live in Rockport, the first town to feel the impact of Hurricane Harvey.

Scott Bibeau outside his home in Rockport.
Credit Martin do Nascimento/KUT

Out in Rockport, Bibeau and his wife rode out the storm in their newly built house.

“When the first section came through it was bad,” Bibeau said. “But when the reverse side came through it was three or four times as bad. The front doors — even though they’re brand new — they were trying to give way. So I put rope around the handles. And I went and got the piano at three o’clock in the morning and we wedged it against the door. I swear, we were holding it like this and it was coming up. We battled that for an hour and a half. After that, it kind of subsided enough for us that it wasn’t blowing in anymore. Our house, you can see, it’s built like a rock.”

Despite the Catecory 4 hurricane winds — winds that ripped apart a cinder block building just blocks away — the house stayed intact. Strangely, it looks pristine. But that wasn’t the case for his neighbors.

“There was two guys in that trailer house over there, not even strapped down and they survived,” said Bibeau. “What do you think of that? This trailer house over here was cut in half, right directly across the street from us. I mean, some people survived, just pure luck.”

Bibeau says his neighbors have deep roots here and he and his wife will stick it out with them, however long Rockport’s recovery takes.

“We’re here to stay, no matter what. Fishing and golf ... retired,” he said laughing. “Welcome to retirement.”