Gustavo Jimenez can often be found at 6 a.m. every morning in the back of his restaurant, preparing food, sauces and marinades. These are used for recipes he crafted himself about 30 years ago, and they’re now being used for his new restaurant, El Pollo Riendo.
His new eatery, located at 506 W. University Blvd., opened about two weeks ago. They primarily sell chicken, but also offer quesadillas, street tacos, enchiladas, as well as a bar with drinks and cocktails made from scratch.
“I’ve been around Odessa and checking the chicken places, but they don’t have a great atmosphere,” Jimenez said. “I decided to build one with my own recipes that I’ve been having for all these 30 years that I’ve been in the restaurant industry.”
Jimenez left Mexico for the Dallas area in the ‘80s. After spending some time working in landscaping, he said the work wasn’t steady enough due to cold weather and rain, so he took a pay cut from $7 an hour to $3.35 an hour to become a dishwasher.
Over time, he moved up to become a prep cook, assistant chef, and eventually, the head chef. He worked for several years at popular restaurants like On the Border, TGI Fridays, and Chuy’s. Eventually, Jimenez said he opened his own restaurant, Don Jose’s, in Ennis, and then two more in Corsicana and Palestine. He also opened Mi Tierra Meat Market, originally in Corsicana, and again in Odessa when he first moved here about 10 years ago.
During his time as a chef, Jimenez began experimenting with his own recipes without the aid of online guides or YouTube videos which weren’t available at the time.
“It took time and dedication for me to find the right recipe,” Jimenez said. “I probably threw away 100 chickens to find the right marinade.”
Now, he has an inch-thick spiral notebook filled with recipes for chicken, soups, drinks and more that he’s been using in his restaurants for decades. And he’s still cooking them all at El Pollo Riendo, often working until 1 a.m.
The specials have stayed the same, too. Jimenez originally sold enchiladas on Tuesdays at his restaurants 25 years ago. The price has increased slightly since then, but you can still get a margarita for $2.50 every Tuesday.
“I am the manager, the chef, and I’m the one who cooks all the dishes,” he said. “We want to keep the same tradition we’ve had in our restaurants.”