The drive-through line was snaking around a bend on a recent Friday at Tucker’s Barbecue in Raymondville.
A Texas Department of Public Safety vehicle pulled up and dotted the line. Michael Guerrero kept the pit fire going as his wife, Cissy, and her staff worked through orders hanging on a wire with clothespins.
“It has been tough,” Cissy Infante Guerrero said of dealing with COVID-19 challenges. “Our business has been cut in half, but we’re blessed to continue doing what we love to do.”
Dine-in services at Tucker’s were curtailed in March and have not resumed since out of the business’ concern to keep customers and staff safe. Drive-through business is brisk with lines of loyal customers. It’s still not enough to maintain the operating hours Tucker’s had prior. For now, the Willacy County barbecue business is open only on weekdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., as it waits out the demise of COVID.
The reductions, however, have not diminished the spirit and verve at Tucker’s. They live by the credo, “good food, good eats, good people,” and work hard while having fun at what they do. A recent award from the Small Business Administration has further boosted spirits. Tucker’s Catering and Restaurant was named the SBA’s 2020 rural-owned small business of the year in the Rio Grande Valley.
“It’s such an honor for us and the county,” said Infante Guerrero, who owns Tucker’s with her husband and brother, J.R. Infante. “Willacy County gets overlooked, so it’s nice to be recognized and know people like our product.”
Staying True To Willacy County
Tucker’s got its start in 2009 in Lyford, which is the hometown of the restaurant’s three owners. It is named in honor of Infante Guerrero’s father, Rudy, who had friends with the same first name. The group of friends referred to each other as tocayos, a term often used by Spanish speakers when referring to someone with the same first name. Somewhere through the years, tocayo became Tucker for Rudy Infante.
“We grew up with barbecue,” Cissy said. “For us, it’s a form of carino.”
Tucker’s first eight years in Lyford were good ones but somewhat off the beaten path. They decided to make the move to Raymondville in 2017 and are located just off U.S. Highway 77 and immediately adjacent to state Highway 186, which is the city’s main street off the expressway.
It was important for Tucker’s to remain in Willacy County and stay true to its community connections. Tucker’s opening in 2009 was front page news in the Raymondville Chronicle, which proclaimed it as the return of barbecue to the county.
“Willacy County people are united as a county no matter what town you come from,” Infante Guerrero said. “Everyone knows everyone, so when people walk in, we want it to feel like they’re walking into their home and not a restaurant.”
Walking into Tucker’s may be some months off, but when that day comes, it will be met with joy.
“I can’t wait,” Cissy said. “It’s going to be great to open up and see everyone again.”