By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The Preston Forest area was virtually a restaurant desert when Mi Cocina opened in June 1991. Rodriguez had abruptly left his mother's popular Oak Lawn Tex-Mex restaurant, Mia's, to join up with Washburne. The ensuing family rift between Mico and parents Butch and Ana Enriquez was fiery and well-publicized. The family, Rodriguez says, began to mend fences only last year.
"I really didn't know Mico's parents; I was backing their son," Washburne says. "There was a lot of anger there, but really, Mia's is very small, and our restaurant was so far away, and we were a different concept altogether. I don't think there was much competition for customers."
Rodriguez, a round man in a black nylon wind suit, bulky white socks and woven leather loafers, is a portrait in contrast to Washburne's lankiness. Washburne, dressed in a rich charcoal-gray suit and pinstriped shirt, his eyes deep hazel pools, still has the boyish good looks of the kid who peddled papers 25 years ago.
Rodriguez and his wife, Caroline, are overseeing the remodeling of the West End Mi Cocina site. "It's a very spiritual thing that happens when you open a restaurant," he says. "Right now I'm bonding with this restaurant."
Washburne, stressing that he only provides financial muscle, says he steers clear of the culinary and design sides of the business.
"Ray," Rodriguez says, "is extremely enthusiastic, an idea person. The ideas are always coming to him. We have a great relationship. I feel like knowing the Washburne brothers has really opened doors for me."
Like many other Mexican places, Mi Cocina features dishes named after favorite friends and relatives of the owners. A plate of cheese enchilada, pork tamale, and beef taco, for example, is the "El Ray." It's a simple and popular selection, Rodriguez says.
"We thought about naming a dish after my brother," Washburne chimes in, chuckling, "but 'The Dick' just didn't sound very good."
By most accounts--especially his own--Washburne never pretended to know a lick about journalism or publishing when he bought three publications last year. "I'm an entrepreneur," he says, again. "I back people. I was new to publishing, so I got the best people I could to manage for me and relied on them to lead me through."
Washburne's lexicon is peppered with such "one-minute manager" buzz phrases. He will tell you, repeatedly, that he looks for "opportunities," "backs people," and is, above all, an "entrepreneur." Texas Business and The Met aren't so much a magazine and a newspaper as they are "products." The name Texas Business, he says, has "great franchise value."
The franchise players Washburne backed at Texas Business last year were John Carroll and Tracy Staton. Washburne hired Carroll, 38, and Staton, 29, as publisher and editor, respectively. Both had held the same positions at the weekly Dallas Business Journal. Carroll had also been part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for spot news in 1981 for the Kansas City Star. Staton, who grew up in South Texas, had a reputation for thorough editing and scrappy business stories in her six years at the paper.
Their exit from the Journal was ugly. Charging Carroll with breach of contract and accusing him of stealing key files and other intellectual property, American City Business Journals Inc., the tabloid's Charlotte, North Carolina, parent company, sued Carroll last year in district court. The suit is still active; Carroll has answered the complaint with a general denial.
Staton would not be quoted for this story, citing "non-compete" and "protection of intellectual property" clauses in a contract she has with Washburne. Such contracts are common in the broadcasting industry, but virtually unheard of in print journalism. Washburne confirms the existence of the contract, but refuses to comment on it.
It is unclear exactly how much money Washburne had to start up the magazine. Reid Slaughter, who sat in on several early planning meetings, says Washburne repeatedly vowed to put in $2 million of his own money; others on the magazine's editorial side say he made that same commitment to them and also pledged to back the project for two years.
Today, Washburne says, "I thought we could do it for about a million." He quickly adds that he didn't know that at the time. "Last year a lot of figures were thrown around, but I never put anything in writing as far as a commitment."
Shortly after he announced his plan to revive Texas Business, Washburne barnstormed the state, pitching a limited partnership to business contacts. "Ray flew around the state saying, 'I don't need your money, I just need your reputation,'" says a source familiar with the start-up period, "but he got what he wanted. Ray was able to get 25 people to buy in."
The partners included Houston's Paul Hobby, of the political and publishing family; Greg Marchbanks, president of Prime Management, an Austin cable company; Randall Goss, CEO of U.S. Risk Inc., a Dallas insurance firm; Stan Keith, former CEO of CompUSA; and longtime Park Cities friends Milledge Hart and Craig Kennington.
For the next four months, it seemed as if Washburne's wallet was bottomless. Carroll hired 11 more editorial employees and seven advertising staffers. Washburne leased 30 Macintosh computers and office space in the West End's White Swan building. The staff sped toward a June magazine debut.