The signature yellow bags of corn chips can be found on shelves of every HEB Grocery Store and Wal-Mart Super Center in San Antonio, San Angelo, and even Houston and Dallas. This now-thriving, but small Del Rio food manufacturing company has humble beginnings, having grown to a successful company with little more than the word of mouth of hundreds of thousands of loyal customers.
These chips are seasoned with a Tex-Mex mix of garlic, paprika, cumin and lime that is robust without being overdone. The signature seasoned tortilla chips along with a container of Julio’s salsa (hot or mild) can usually be found at any gathering, whether it is a wedding party or football game. For many, once they’ve tried it, they are regular customers. Despite all the obstacles the Garcia family has overcome, loyal, enthusiastic customers explain the success of Del Rio’s own Julio’s Seasoning and Corn Chips. As the father of ten children, Julio T. Garcia held many jobs throughout his life. But it was in the field of being a chef that he found his calling. As the head chef at the Branding Iron Steak House in north Del Rio, he earned a magnificent reputation for his steaks because of his secret seasoning.
The Branding Iron, still standing today, vacant, near the Days Inn, was a favorite gathering place for many Del Rioans in the 1970s and early 1980s. The restaurant’s owner played the piano on busy nights. One busy evening, Garcia was so overwhelmed with orders for his steaks that he released his frustration by banging on the grill and overhead pots and pans with his cooking utensils. He released his anger above the piano chords, but the fury turned to harmony as he redirected his random noise into rhythm with the piano. As time went on, Garcia added his hearty voice to his “pots and pans” percussion, singing the Spanish standard, “El Rancho Grande.” The patrons instantly loved it, and Julio Garcia became an institution at the Del Rio steak house. The Branding Iron eventually closed, and Garcia moved down the street to operate the kitchen at Cedar’s Steak House at the corner of Veterans Boulevard and King’s Way. He was there for five years when a new manager took over and decided to expand the bar at the expense of the restaurant. Garcia eventually quit and joined the ranks of the unemployed. Lilia Garcia, Julio’s wife, operated a small catering business out of their home kitchen in addition to her job as a cook at the local school district. With time on his hands, Julio pitched in to help. Julio learned his wife’s recipe for salsa, and being experienced in running a commercial kitchen, he devised a more efficient process to prepare it. Lilia prepared tamales and enchiladas for her catering customers. She gave away corn tortilla chips as a value-added condiment.
One day a local bank hired the Garcia's to cater a party. The next day, they were surprised to receive a second order from the bank for more chips and salsa. Julio worked night and day preparing corn chips in his kitchen for a rapidly growing base of customers who would knock on the door of their home at all hours of the day and night to buy them. But Julio, with a large family and little time, was already buried in debt from his lengthy unemployment. That is when he accepted a job at a convenience store on Veterans Boulevard working the graveyard shift from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m. While tending the counter those late evenings, Julio observed that the retiring late-night partiers returning from Mexico seemed to prefer purchasing small trays of nachos made with typical round chips and processed cheese. Julio thought his chips and salsa would be a better product and presented his idea to the store manager. The manager agreed to buy chips and salsa from Julio. My dad would come home at seven-thirty in the morning and start cooking chips. At five o’clock he took a nap and was out the door with six buckets of corn chips at 10:30 p.m., just in time to make the night shift at the store. On weekends, he’d take ten buckets of chips,” his son Miguel Garcia said. This was in addition to the drive-up customers to their home. “In the day, people would walk in our house and maybe buy two or three boxes of chips. That is all we could handle. So we bought a used fryer and hooked it up,” added Miguel. The fryer required a 220-volt hookup, and Lilia became uneasy with how her kitchen had been converted to a commercial operation. Miguel and the children agreed to solve the problem by remodeling the garage and moving the corn chip cooking operation there. “She told me, ‘Miguel you better go fix that garage because your dad is taking up too much space!’” Miguel said. With the help of friends and the other siblings, Miguel was able to remodel the garage into a makeshift commercial kitchen. “We had an electrician hook up the fryer but the exhaust fan was a regular fan we purchased from Wal-Mart and placed in the window,” he said.
After we completed the garage, Miguel thought the building needed more color, so he asked his dad, “Can I buy some paint?” Julio agreed and Miguel went to the store and bought paint in three colors, bright yellow, red and green. “I said, ‘Dad, we’re going to be the yellow house’,” Miguel explained, after he painted the garage at 410 Avenue B bright yellow with red and green trim. To this day, bright yellow, red and green are the company colors. As Julio’s sold more chips, Miguel and his dad bought more fryers, each stand-alone units, to increase the volume. “All the while, dad was paying everyone off to get out of debt,” Miguel explained. When the corn chip business increased to the point that the family needed more help, son , Jose, quit his job to work at Julio’s. “Jose worked the front counter back then. Customers would come in so fast, I remember all he had time to say all day was ‘Yes sir! Thank you! Bye!’” Miguel said. “But Jose was the real go-getter of the family.” In 1996, he moved to San Angelo and eventually opened three locations, including a factory on Chadbourne Street and two separate burrito restaurants. By opening the stores in San Angelo, Jose doubled Julio’s market share. He also pioneered the idea of creating restaurants around the brand. Jose sold Wal-Mart on the idea of carrying Julio’s in its Super Centers and they all maintain that account to this day.
By the turn of the century, Julio’s was still churning out corn chips manually, and a lot of them. Julio was out of debt, and Miguel wanted to automate the cooking process. “We needed a bigger building,” Miguel said. But the bank wouldn’t talk to Miguel unless he could show them bonafide profit and loss statements, balance sheets, and a business plan. Miguel found that not only did he need to automate the manufacturing, but first he needed to automate accounting. Miguel turned to Del Rio business consultant Delia Ramirez who engineered moving the entire accounting process to a computer network. Sandra Saucedo, Miguel’s niece, took over the day-to-day bookeeping. With up-to-date financial statements in hand, Miguel was approved for a commercial loan to construct their current building at 3900 Highway 90 East, near Laughlin Air Force Base. It was completed in 2002. The family outfitted the building with automated equipment, and fashioned it into an assembly line. Today, the Del Rio manufacturing plant produces 2.5 tons of Julio’s Corn Chips per day for delivery not only in Del Rio, but San Antonio, Houston, Lubbock, Luftkin, the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and Dallas. Julio’s remains a family operation. Julio is retired now, but still comes to the plant many afternoons to visit. Miguel runs the manufacturing in Del Rio. His niece Sandra Saucedo is the office manager and Miguel’s wife Angie fills in where help is needed. Miguel’s brother, Pete, is the operations manager overseeing the entire production process. Julio Jr. takes care of the distribution of Julio’s in San Antonio. Brother Jose still operates a second factory and two restaurants in San Angelo as a franchisee. Delia Ramirez still serves as a business consultant for the family businessDemand for Julio’s Corn Chips in Houston and Dallas has exploded. Despite a few challenges during the opening of the Del Rio factory a few years ago, Miguel estimates they have fully recovered.“We’re back where we should be,” Miguel said.Julio’s is located at 3900 Highway 90 East in Del Rio, Texas. The restaurant in front of the factory is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Drive through hours: 6 a.m. until 8 p.m.; Dine-in hours 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.