Writing an obituary for Felix Stehling of Taco Cabana fame fills me with sadness. He was a lion in the Texas food service industry.
The great man’s restaurants and clubs were legion:
Bombay Bicycle Club,
Lyndy’s Great Indoors
Poco Loco Club
Mr. Stehling got his start with business partner Frank Sills at the legendary (now food truck) Sills’ Snack Shack. San Antonio eaters of a certain age had their beanburger virginity snatched from them by Stehling as this is where the iconic dish was invented.
The birth of Taco Cabana was an interesting one.
In 1978 Stehling needed more parking for his Crystal Pistol night club so he leased an out-of-business Dairy Queen across the street to accommodate his patrons. The shuttered business ate at him so he decided to open it up as a Mexican restaurant. With a tagline of “the original Mexican patio cafe” Taco Cabana was born. This mothership went on to post record revenues of 4 million dollars per year. 1987 was a benchmark year as the restaurant exploded from 5 locations to over 100. Nowadays, the business is a giant concern with 162 locations scattered across the Southwest United States.
Just 7 short years later Stehling was gone. Muscled out by a board of directors who eventually brought on Stephen Clark of Church’s Fried Chicken chain.
When I first visited Austin in 1991 Taco Cabana was one of the “must visit” places my tour guide demanded to take me. I believe a bean and cheese taco was .80c back then. Interestingly, Taco Cabana continues to make their flour tortillas from scratch to this day. A recent visit to the south Lamar location saw stacks of 50lb bags of dried pinto beans near the salsa bar.
Taco Cabana is real.
When in San Antonio you may want to visit Mama Margie’s, a small chain founded by Margie Lopez Abonce, the cook who wrote all the recipes for the original Taco Cabana in that old defunct Dairy Queen at the corner of San Pedro and Hildebrand.