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The meaning of FAMILIA

Don Pepe opens up about what the word means to him

Article by Joanna Sanchez

Photography by Emma's Mex Grill

Originally published in Pearland Lifestyle

As you walk up to the door vibrant living tropical avocado green plants welcome you with their peaceful nature. The scent of freshly grilled food makes your mouth water immediately, inviting you in to see and taste. The walls, tables, décor, and meals are alive and buzzing with bright colors, designs, and love being crafted mainly by hand by one man. Who is that one man that has been keeping a treasured piece of Pearland living for close to 30 years, owner Don Pepe. He has been feeding families wholesome and authentic flavorful Tex-Mex dishes with love and devotion for multiple generations and that is what really keeps the locals coming back to his Emma’s Mex Grill.

Don’t be surprised to see patrons at Emma’s swaying to classics of bosa nova to jazz Latino while sipping on hand-picked high-quality tequila cocktails and indulging in traditional delights which are always made fresh daily. Tongue tickling salsas made with locally procured ingredients, handmade piles of piping hot tortillas and tortilla chips. Marinated and braised beef, pork, and chicken dishes, all of them used in a variety of dishes that leave customers undecided because they are all delectable and leaving decisions on the wait staff after asking, “what would you choose?” Daily customers are putting faith and trust in someone taking their order because they have been with the restaurant for years. The restaurant itself has grown into a family union with staff that have been there close to its first opening, or it is the children of the previous employees getting their taste of the restaurant industry.

So, is it the food or the togetherness that really brings the locals back to Emma’s again and again I ask Don Pepe which he replies with a chuckle, “I believe it is the respect and appreciation we give plus the combination of wholesome food and being together around a dinner table and not have to clean house.” This response is deep all in its own because over the years many families have gotten busier and in the past few some have realized how important being together truly is. Dinner tables are now starting to become warmer due to seating the entire family in them. More communication is happening and opening a gateway to understanding differences.

“Dishes serves at Emma’s are not small, can be shared, are healthier, and food like I grew up eating at home.” states Don Pepe. Parents having issues feeding picky eaters should look no further. Here kids are encouraged to sniff, taste, inquire, and explore all food placed on the table. Junk food is not an option and instead whole foods like beans, vegetables, fresh cheeses, warm tortillas are available. Don Pepe and staff have been known to substitute items for the littles to get them to “try” something new. Chicken quesadillas can just be cheese or add beans to half of one.

Don Pepe and staff understand adapting to something new. Coming from Mexico and curating dishes that are Tex-Mex, a cuisine not derived from Mexico at all but took some influences from Mexico and the Texan cowboy life. Trained as a corporate chef Don Pepe was used to food evolving but keeping the essence of authentic Mexican traditional flavor when creating his menu was of the utmost importance. He began to incorporate the Tex-Mex flavor into his dishes with bits of cumin here and anise there. Taking basic dishes like cowboy refried beans and turning them into works of art like frijoles con chorizo y queso panela a la plancha. These masterpieces with slight changes over the years won the hearts of many because here we are three decades later with this article.

With emotional tears in his eyes Don Pepe is enamored by the growth, support, and respect the community has given him over the years. After the loss of his eldest son two years ago he has now a different sense of happiness and appreciation when seeing now a fourth generation of customers come into his location and knowing that everyone grew up together. “I love how my customers come in and ask how my children and I are because in turn I ask the same. I have seen many of them with their parents and now those at one-point kids are now parents themselves.” says Don Pepe with a smile and glimmer in his eye.

So, thirty years later a small business that started with only ten tables has now turned into a huge staple in Pearland. Don Pepe has done multiple serves to our community in those years even continued serve to feed first responders during the pandemic. He even has sponsored citizenship for fifteen of his employees past and present and some still work for him or now own their own restaurants here local. In the end respect and family is what Don Pepe has within much the community.

A casual family-style setting, where they can sit down and sample all the best antojitos (snacks/appetizers) and talk about their days and keep the value of family unity alive is all Don Pepe has ever wanted.