The Garzas are the family behind one of this year’s winning Big Tex Choice Award items at the State Fair of Texas. Their dish, Arroz con Leche (20 coupons), won the Best Taste: Sweet category, making this their first win since they opened their first concession stand in 1984.
In 2012, their Deep Fried Divine Chocolate Tres Leches (18 coupons) was a finalist, but they are happily overwhelmed having a winning dish this year.
“We’ve seen more than double our business since winning,” says Denise de la Cruz, daughter of Bennie Garza, who first opened the stand 34 years ago.
“Mom and Dad had a restaurant, and mother noticed that business was really low during the fair and she thought, ‘If they’re not coming to me, I’m coming to them,’” she says. It took 10 tries for their application to be accepted.
“We started out with one stand. We introduced fajitas to the fair in 1984. No one knew what they were when we started,” de la Cruz says. “About two years later, we introduced gorditas. And no one knew what gorditas were either. And then we got another stand … and another … and now we have four.”
The Garzas began entering the Big Tex Choice Awards in 2012 and were thrilled when their first submission, the Deep Fried Chocolate Tres Leches, made it to the semifinals.
“Every year since, we have entered something," de la Cruz says. "This year, we decided to do the Arroz con Leche. I didn’t think we were going to win. But we won. First place. I’m really, really surprised."
The winning dish is one the Garza family has eaten for years.
“Arroz con leche is what we eat for breakfast; it’s our Mexican oatmeal," she says. "And when we were growing up, we had it all the time, especially in the winter.”
In coming up with a dish to enter this year, they wanted to do something different.
“Everything has been tried. Everything,” de la Cruz says. “This is something really traditional. It’s what we grew up with.”
The taste-testing took five months.
“We started having our family meetings in January," she says. "Every month, we would meet. We finally perfected it in May.”
As for other dishes at their stand, de la Cruz recommends the fried Arroz Con Pollo (18 coupons), new last year, or the Fried Brownie (16 coupons).
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“Since we started selling the brownies, people come back year after year," she says. "We haven’t seen a decrease in sales on brownies or tres leches.”
In addition to their stand by the Chevrolet Main Stage, the Garzas also have three other stands, “one in the Tower building, which sells the same thing we sell here. We also have one that sells fajitas and nachos and gorditas and a fourth, a pizza stand," she says.
For the Garzas, this is a family effort. Not only were they all involved in the conceptualizing of the arroz con leche dish, but they work together every day of the fair.
“I am here every day,” de la Cruz says. “We have family that helps out at each stand. My sister’s daughter stepped up to the plate to run a stand, my son stepped up a stand … we’ve got lots of family members that help out.”