How would you explain a mother dressing up her young son as a cook for Halloween? Would you call it a premonition or intuition? After all, mothers do know everything!
Before we go any further, let’s dispel any myths about your typical Mexican restaurant in the Valley. Contrary to popular belief, they are NOT all the same. With that in mind, let’s focus on one particular Mexican restaurant on the north side of McAllen with a nice little story of how a family can be united and inspired from above.
Let's go back in time!
Let’s all go back to the early 70’s, when two little boys named Albert and Jorge Suarez were running and playing like boys do. With a strict right hand from their father, and a gentle left hand from their mother, these young monsters grew up just as their mother wanted them to. Albert, the older of the two, grew up to be ambitious and aggressive. Jorge on the other hand, grew up free-spirited and charming.
Jorge was the little boy whose mother dressed him as a cook for Halloween. And he was also the one who, in his teens, had no choice but to “cook” at his uncle’s restaurant while his friends were out causing trouble. Why, you might ask? Because his mother wanted him to promise he would always be her little chef!
In 1990, tragedy stuck the Suarez family as Albert and Jorge’s mother, Carmen, passed away, too soon for her to see her dreams for her children come true, but not too soon for her to have left a significant and memorable inspiration for their future.
After years of cooking at his uncle’s restaurant and Jorge decided it was time to fulfill the promise he made his mother as a boy. Jorge approached Albert and suggested they open a restaurant of their own suggesting he’d be the cook and Albert would be the waiter.
At the time, Albert was helping his father at their family owned clothing store, Albert’s Formal Wear. Having worked at the store since he was 8, Albert learned the skills necessary to make a business successful.
“I may have known how to cook, but I would have never taken this business to where it is at today without the help of my brother,” Jorge says. “There would not be a Koko’s if it had not been for him. He knows the ins and outs of a business. He is the restaurant’s PR MAN.”
Koko’s, named after a nickname given to Jorge by his mother, opened in October 1990, a few short months after the passing of their mother. It was affectionately known as
a “hole in the wall” on downtown Broadway. The original Koko’s was so small it could only fit ten tables and the kitchen was so tiny only Jorge could fit back there to cook.
The menu started modestly and the hours of operation were limited. But it was a restaurant they could call their own and the boys couldn’t be happier.
Two years later, along with the overwhelming support from their father, Albert Sr. and their younger brother Marco, Koko’s was a tremendous success and the little restaurant had outgrown its first home.
Jorge and Albert needed a larger location. And they didn’t have to go far, moving directly across the street where ten tables tripled to 30.
Towards the latter part of the 90’s Koko’s was practically a downtown institution during lunch. City officials, mayors, downtown business owners, shoppers and the average Joe found their way to downtown McAllen to eat at Koko’s. So much so that the restaurant soon inherited an additional nickname, “POLITI-KOKO’S”, named for the amount of political influence that was eating at the restaurant at any given time.
Koko’s may have been small, but it was the perfect downtown place to eat and socialize during the lunch hour.
“going to the downtown location at least 2 to 3 times weekly,” says former McAllen Mayor Leo Montalvo. “I did it because it was convenient to my office and convenient to City Hall. I still go to the uptown location at least twice a week. But, I go to eat there now because of the personal relationship I have created over the years with the Suarez brothers.”
In less than a decade, the boys had made Koko’s a legendary name downtown. However, they were constantly asked about dinner hours. The restaurant was never open past 3 pm, but because their loyal, frequent customers kept asking for dinner service, Albert and Jorge gave in to their requests.
In February 2004, after more than 14 years downtown, Albert and Jorge decided it was time to take their little restaurant to another level. They opened Koko’s Uptown, currently located on North 10th Street.
“We moved uptown because it was time for the restaurant to step up,” said Albert. “We had been downtown for so many years, that we got comfortable there. But our customers gave us enough faith that if we moved to better ourselves and better the atmosphere and ambiance of the restaurant, then they would move with us. Not only did our customers follow us, but they brought new customers with them, and the new location brought its own new customers.”
“The restaurant has become a safe, comfortable haven for a lot of our customers. They come here 2 or 3 times a week because we pride ourselves on our customer service,” Jorge added. “The staff knows to welcome everyone with open arms, regardless of whether there is a lunch or dinner rush. If I notice that the staff is too busy with one customer, and another customer is waiting, Albert or I immediately jump in to help.”
If you visit Koko’s more than once during the week, chances are you may run into the same people. In spite of their move uptown, the restaurant has maintained its reputation as a legendary institution.
Not only does the restaurant pride itself on its exceptional traditional, home-style cooking, but when Albert and Jorge decided to expand, they also decided to include catering among their services. That decision has led to Koko’s catering some of the upper Valley’s most important events.
“The boys are wonderful. Their service is outstanding. I use them for caterings because I know I can count on them. They have never let me down,” says Dora Brown, 1st Vice President and Marketing Director of IBC Bank. “Koko’s is a success because of who Albert and Jorge are personally.”
Nearly fifteen years have passed since Jorge and Albert decided to open Koko’s. And when you walk in, the first thing you’ll see is a dedication to their mother on the wall. They continue to run the restaurant as she would have run it herself, not only offering authentic Mexican food but treating their customers as if they were guests in their own home.
It’s funny how the idea for a restaurant started with a Halloween costume. A mother’s wish was fulfilled by her boys who honor that wish everyday. Something tells me Carmen Suarez is looking down at her boys and smiling.
Mon-Fri ................. 11am - 11pm
Sat ..........................11am - 12am
Sat ..........................11am - 11pm
Catering .....................Please Call
4809 W. Expressway 83,