Growing up in Weslaco, Zeke Reyna had big dreams growing up during the glory years when Tiger Woods dominated the golf world.
“I always thought I’d win the Masters,” Reyna said.
He didn’t quite get there although he was an outstanding high school golfer. Reyna was good enough to compete collegiality at SMU in Dallas and then the University of Oregon. He went on to spend some time on the professional golf tour in Canada before eventually returning home to start something Reyna believes he has an “instinctive feel” for – and that’s business.
In the midst of a time slowing some businesses, Reyna has forged ahead in utilizing the energy and competitiveness from his athletic career to open two community-minded barbecue restaurants in the Rio Grande Valley. One is in his hometown, next door to his father’s three-story law office along the expressway in Weslaco. The other Reyna’s Bar-B-Q is on Spur 54 in Harlingen, in the heart of one of the city’s faster growing retail and leisure corridors.
Project A Positive Image
Walk into either Reyna’s and it seems to match the exuberance and friendliness of its 35-year-old owner. Reyna is often among customers, greeting them and bringing their hot plates of barbecue and sides to their tables.
“Good food is good for the soul,” Reyna said at his Weslaco restaurant. “I want something vibrant, a place that feels different where we can put smiles on people’s faces.”
Reyna’s goals are two-fold. He wants his restaurants to be good sit-down places where families can gather after church or other event get-togethers. He also wants Reyna’s to be fast. A teacher, he said, has less than an hour to eat lunch during a school day, so the drive-through has to be quick. The same goes for health care workers on the go.
“It’s not just one thing,” Reyna said of being successful in a competitive field. “Everyone can argue about barbecue, and really, everyone has good barbecue, so you also have to think about branding, the imagery, how you make people feel when they walk into your place.”
The feedback on Facebook after a recent birthday party at the Reyna’s in Harlingen commended the restaurant for “great food and outstanding customer service,” while another patron at the same event spoke of a “wonderful atmosphere.” It’s the sort of elements Reyna wants his restaurants to project.
There are also Facebook photos of family groups at restaurant tables with mostly empty plates in front of them. Customers finish off what Reyna calls “good Texas-style barbecue” that uses a combination of oak and pecan for a sweeter tasting meat than those from mesquite burns.
The menu is fairly traditional for a barbecue restaurant. Combo plates of brisket, turkey, ribs and chicken with sandwiches are part of the offerings. There are also taco plates, brisket nachos, fully loaded potatoes and, of course, puddings to round out 71 menu items. Sweet tea is a must at any barbecue restaurant, and Reyna’s has its own brew in that regard.
There’s also a service-to-community component that Reyna is proud to cite. His restaurants have donated hundreds of meals to what Reyna’s Facebook page calls “medical heroes.” These are the nurses, technicians and specialists caring for people over the last year at area hospitals and clinics.
“Serving people is what it’s about,” Reyna said. “You want to make an impact in a way that’s of service to others.”