Texas Connects Us: Iconic El Fenix Mexican Restaurant

The El Fenix Mexican restaurant in Dallas started with humble roots and blossomed into a history-making business.

The Martinez family opened the first El Fenix where Woodall Rodgers Freeway now sits.

"Dallas wasn't jumping like it is today," Alfred Martinez joked.

Alfred Martinez is the last surviving sibling in his family, which started the famed restaurant. His dad opened the business back in 1918.

"It was a small, poor little neighborhood," Martinez recalled. "Old houses and so forth. It was called Little Mexico back in the old days."

He doesn't visit the restaurant as much as he used to, and at his age, no one can really blame him.

"In another month I'll be 93," he said.

In 1964 the Martinez family paid about $7,000 to buy the land to build what locals now call the original location, on McKinney Avenue.

"All of us – Mama, Papa, all the brothers and sisters – grew up working in the restaurant," Alfred Martinez said.

Their hard work eventually paid off. El Fenix is now the oldest Mexican restaurant chain in the United States. Alfred Martinez can't help but think of his parents.

"They would be proud and happy," he said.

In 2008, the Martinez family sold all 15 of their restaurants to Mike Karns and his Firebird Restaurant Group, though no one will say for how much.

"He paid us well," Alfred Martinez said.

He'll always be welcome at the restaurant to keep sharing his stories.

"We have customers who have been coming here for years and years, and their kids grow up in here, you know," he said. "Maybe that's why we're still in business."

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