When Jovita Chase first moved with her mom to the Brownsville Coffee Shop No. 2’s current location, she remembers the excitement as a customer would walk in – any customer, even just one. “When we first opened where I am, I didn’t have much money, I couldn’t advertise and all we had was word of mouth,” she said. “Things were very difficult.”
Now, 42 years later the 92-seat restaurant is a Brownsville staple, serving breakfast and lunch 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “Word of mouth finally built up and things took off a little more – especially after we went to 24 hours a day in 1977 or ’78,” Jovita said. “There weren’t a lot of 24-hour places to eat, especially in Brownsville that serve the kind of Mexican and American food that we serve – everything is made from scratch.”
Jovita’s mom, Rafaela Alviar, began the business in 1964 in downtown Brownsville on Elizabeth Street in a small wooden-frame building that previously was a four-room house. “There was a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom and I’m not sure what the fourth room was; maybe a bedroom,” Jovita said. “We had to remodel it.” Her working career began not to long after that as she and her brother went to work for Rafaela, automatically making it a total family business.
“My brother and I both started working while we were in high school,” Jovita said. “Mom started us out as dishwashers. I guess I grew up as a Jack-of-all-trades – I don’t do it now but I would do a little cooking, preparing the orders or busing. But now God has blessed me with excellent employees who are so faithful.” Jovita added that many of the employees have been with her for a long time, the longest being Sylvia Gonzalez for more than 35 years.
Before going to the No. 2 location, Rafaela built Brownsville Coffee Shop No. 1 on 13th Street and Frontage Road. Jovita’s brother, Andres Alviar, runs that restaurant while she oversees No. 2 on International Boulevard. “The transition (for taking over) was really slow since I worked there all the time but she prepared us to be ready – even though I never thought I would be able to keep running it like she did,” Jovita said. “It has grown beyond my wildest dreams.”
The restaurant’s menu is loaded with the regular items found in Mexican/American cuisine, from breakfast tacos with chorizo and egg or machacado to oatmeal and pancakes. Breakfast – and lunch – are both served 24 hours a day. For lunch/dinner there are steaks, enchiladas, fajita plates, fried shrimp, barbacoa and a wide array of gorditas. Taste buds – and stomachs – are bound to leave the restaurant in a good mood.
Above and beyond all that are the two items Jovita said everyone has to try and that have become customer favorites – the carne guisada and the menudo. “We’re world famous for our menudo,” Jovita said. “Everyone has to try the carne guisada – it’s excellent.” Jovita recalled a couple who would come on dates to the wooden-home restaurant. When they heard it was shutting down, they were a bit sad after all the memories they had created. Decades later, the couple still returns and have embarked on many more memories. And what do they order? “The carne guisada,” Jovita said.
Many of the families who go to the restaurant today are the children of parents who used to frequent the restaurant years ago. The recipes are all Rafaela’s and Jovita said she hasn’t changed any of them. She credits a great staff for keeping the food fresh and what the customers are accustomed to – even on the days she’s not there. “I used to work seven days a week and only started taking two days off – Tuesdays and Thursdays – about 10 years ago,” she said. “People ask me why I don’t take the weekends off and I tell them that’s when we are the busiest.”
And when they are the busiest, that’s when Jovita is in her element, meeting and greeting people and making sure everyone is happy. “That’s what I enjoy doing the most and there’s really no part of any job here I didn’t or don’t like,” she said before adding with a laugh. “Oh wait, yes there is one I don’t like – all the paperwork.”
Brownsville Coffee Shop No. 2 is located at 3230 International Blvd. in Brownsville.