After 31 years in operation, east end Tex-Mex restaurant Nuevo Leon has closed.
Owner Rachel Davila left a note on the door this weekend announcing the closure and thanking customers for their years of business. We called Davila and asked her about why she started the restaurant, the changes she’s seen in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, and what she plans for the future.
KUT News: Why are you closing your restaurant?
Rachel Davila: I am retiring and the only way I can retire is to close it and sell it.
KUT News: Do you have a buyer yet?
Davila: Yes. It’s sold.
KUT News: Is it going to be another Tex-Mex restaurant?
Davila: I don’t know. I doubt it. I won’t tell you who bought it, but the plans are to lease it for at least five or six years, and then after that, I don’t know.
KUT News: You must have a lot of memories in this restaurant. Can you tell us about any of them?
Davila: I do. I’ve had a lot of weddings, celebrations baptisms, and baby showers and all that. And now those kids that were celebrated back then are my customers. And it’s really, really nice. They kind of grew up going to Nuevo Leon. So we’ve become best friends.
It’s been really, really enjoyable for me because one of the things I love to do is visit with people, and this has provided me a venue to do that.
KUT News: You’ve also seen a lot of changes in that neighborhood over the past thirty years.
Davila: You bet. One of the things I keep griping about and harping on is the fact that my community is being taxed out of existence. The people that have lived here forever can no longer afford the taxes. That’s one of my pet peeves about what’s happening in the community.
I welcome the safety of it now, because I didn’t think I would live to see people walking around at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning in East Austin. Before, East Austin was taboo. I don’t know if you know that, but it was. But now, people are walking their dogs at any hour of the night, and it’s pretty safe now.
I love the people who are moving in, don’t get me wrong. I just feel that someone, the legislature or someone, should give the people that can’t afford the taxes some kind of break.
KUT News: Did higher taxes play a role in your decision to retire?
Davila: No, [it was] my age. In five months, I’m going to be 78. It’s my age, really.
KUT News: Why did you open Nuevo Leon back in June of 1982?
Davila: I wanted to open up a business, and I was seeing this gentleman by the name of Daniel Davila. He has since passed away. At first I was going to open up a secretarial business where I would do things of that sort, because that was where I came from.
He said, “Well, why don’t you open up a restaurant? You’re a good cook. Do that.” I said, “Well, that would give me an opportunity to visit with a lot of people and have a lot of people come into my life.” And I decided I would. And here we are 30 years later.
KUT News: How does it feel to say goodbye after all these years?
Davila: Very sad. Very, very sad. This is a bittersweet adventure for me, because for the longest time, I’ve always had the stress and responsibility of coming here and worrying about my employees.
For a long time, I’ve tried to sell for another restaurant that would continue my legacy, what I’ve done. And I could just not find a buyer.
Finally, my kids said, “You know what mom? It’s time to start worrying about you.” And so I said, “Okay.” And here I am.
KUT News: What are you going to do with all this new free time?
Davila: I haven’t had time to think about that. As you know, you caught me here at the restaurant. I’m still working on paperwork and stuff like that. I’m going my payroll. I guess when I get through wrapping up everything for Nuevo Leon, I will think about something else.
What’s in my plans though, I plan to volunteer in the baby department at any hospital with the newborns and hold them and cuddle them and give them love.
My grandchildren, the youngest is 11, soon to be 12, so they’re no longer babies. I love babies. So that’s what I plan to do eventually.