Jorge Levy and his two sons own Desperados on Greenville and in Garland. The senior Levy, originally from Mexico, is also involved in The Dallas Margarita Society, Savor Mexico, the Greenville Area Business Association and recently won the National Restaurant Association's Faces of Diversity Award. Most importantly, he's the guy that emailed Mark Cuban about saving the Saint Patrick's Day parade.
Following is a simple story about how the son of French Jewish immigrant, who was raised as a catholic in Mexico, opened a Tex-Mex restaurant after he was drafted for the Vietnam War, then 30 years later found a way to save an Irish parade with the help of a Cuban.
So, when the parade ran into some financial parade you just thought, "Maybe Mark can cover it?" Well, one of my customers suggested I call him.
And so you just said, "Okay. I'll call him"? Well, we (the Greenville Restaurant Association) lost one of the major sponsors, which is Andrews, the distributor for Miller and Coors. They were on board all along and then they called up and said they couldn't do it. The budget is like $95,000. So, I went to Ben E Keith and they said they could give us part of it, but I was still short $40,000.
We sent out a press release notifying the public that the parade may end. Then a customer suggested I contact Mark Cuban. So, I got home and told my wife and she said you have nothing to lose.
How did you ask him? I sent him an email and told him my situation and asked if he could help. He replied in seven minutes. He said he couldn't let the tradition die; it's part of Dallas. He said he lost too many brain cells in his younger days due to the Greenville parade. He said he'd send me the forty that we were short, plus $25,000 for the scholarship fund for DISD.
That had to be easier then you ever expected, huh? I'm looking at the email and he signed it with "M" and is very to the point.
Did you think it was a joke? Yes! Who's going to give you $65,000?
In seven minutes! Exactly! Especially Mark Cuban. I have two restaurants and barely have time to go workout. This guy owns I don't know how many companies. I didn't believe it. So I replied back, "Thank you so much, Mr. Cuban, for your generosity ... What's the next step?"
Oh, so you were testing "M?" Yes. Then, he replied back that someone from his office would contact me the next day and that was it.
So, he has people to handle it. Then what happened... The next day someone called me from his office and asked for the details for the check and everything, and she was actually someone that my wife knew from long ago. And my wife knew she worked for Cuban, so then I knew that it was legitimate.
You had confirmation that it was in fact Cuban, not Dirk messing with the bosses cell phone, so how did you proceed? Then, I didn't know if I should tell the public or not, so I asked him if he cared if we told people that he made the donation. He said he didn't mind but that he wouldn't do personal interviews.
My last contact with him was that I would email him at the end of the school year with the names of the three kids who received the scholarships. Now a little about restaurant ownership, do you like having your kids work with you? No (smiling across the table at his son). No, of course, I want them to come and work with me. It's just that I don't want them to go through the downs, but I definitely want them to, I just didn't think they were going to do it.
(To his son Jake) So, why did you want to work in the restaurant business like your father? Jake: Because I would watch him walk around the restaurant and get hugs from all these beautiful ladies.
Jorge again: Just to show you the difference between this guy and the other... when he was young and said he wanted to start working for me, I told him to get in the kitchen and he refused. The other one (his other son), Michael said, "I want to start in the kitchen." Michael wanted to learn everything.
(Jake is about to shoot fire out of his eyes at his dad. He leaves.)
How has the Dallas dining scene changed? Dallas just keeps growing. Who would have thought Frisco would be part of Dallas. I have a friend that use to live up there and we'd go up there to go hunting and fishing.
If you just look at Tex Mex, it's so popular. People use to eat just tacos, tamales and enchiladas, now they're venturing out and trying other things. I had always tried to create or bring authentic Mexican food.
Did your mother teach you how to cook growing up? I learned a lot from my mother, even though she had very little education, about as little as me, but I learned everything from her. She was an amazing woman.
Your father died when you were very young and your mother moved your family to Dallas when you were 16. Where were your parents from originally? My father was born in Marseille, France. He and my uncle came to America when they were very young and they traveled all over. They liked Mexico City and stayed there for a while, then moved to Monterrey where he met my mother. My mother was Mexican Catholic. My father was French Jewish. But, we were raised Catholic. Now I'm married to a Jewish woman. So, I went to meet her parents in Maine and they are Jewish and my last name is Levy, which is the most popular Jewish name...
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But, you're a Mexican catholic... You were then drafted for Vietnam when you turned 18. How was that transition? (Laughing) It's funny now, but it wasn't funny then. I had been here less than two years and I was just getting adjusted. I went to Fort Polk, Louisiana, for basic training in the wintertime, where it rains every day. I was there two months then went to Maryland, New Jersey and then Virginia. I never actually had to go to Vietnam. My mom wanted us to go back to Mexico when I got drafted, but I wanted to stay and serve.
Are you glad you did? It was one of the best things I ever did in my life. It taught me a lot of things. Basically how to be independent have discipline. It makes you grow up fast.
Let's say a friend comes up to you and tells you they want to open a restaurant. After being here over 30 years, what would your advice be? My first piece of advice would be for them to go to work for somebody for at least a year because you have to know so much, from accounting to cooking, plumbing and even psychology. But, there are three main things you have to stay on top of. First is the service. You have to train and retrain. Second is cleanliness. People expect when they walk in for the place to be spotless. Then, last is consistency.
What are some of your favorite local restaurants? I love Celebrations, simply because I love home cooking and they have the best. I like Sea Breeze for their lobster rolls. But, my favorite is my wife's kitchen. She's a great cook.