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Famed Tex-Mex restaurant El Patio closing after 65 years

Matthew Odam
From left, Renee, David and Roseann Joseph, owners of El Patio Restaurant in Austin on Tuesday, July 23, 2019. [LOLA GOMEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

David Joseph hasn’t had many free Saturday nights for dinner with his family over the past several decades. He and his siblings have been too worried about feeding others at El Patio, the restaurant his father, Paul Joseph, opened in 1954 at 2938 Guadalupe St.

His calendar is about to open up. Joseph and his sisters, Roseann Joseph-Ciani, Renee Joseph Downer and Michelle Joseph, have decided to close the iconic Tex-Mex restaurant near the University of Texas campus that has fed six generations of diners. El Patio will serve its final meal on Aug. 9.

“It’s bittersweet. It’s mixed emotions,” David Joseph said. “But it’s a good thing. There will be a lot of happy tears.”

Joseph, who’s worked at the family-owned restaurant in some capacity since age 11, says he’s ready to step back from the “very, very demanding” job of restaurant ownership, enjoy the second half of his life and spend more time with his mother, Mary Ann.

Paul Joseph, who died in 1995, got his start in the restaurant business at P.J. Café. The restaurant sat adjacent to his boyhood home, where he grew up with 13 brothers and sisters on the site now occupied by the Four Seasons Hotel. He moved uptown to run the Schoonerville, a restaurant where you could get a porterhouse for $1.50, in the early 1950s. After a couple of years, he took over ownership of the restaurant and changed the name to El Patio.

A campus-area staple, El Patio served as a favorite for celebrities like former Longhorns coach Darrell Royal, former first lady Lady Bird Johnson and television newsman Walter Cronkite and was the culinary home away from campus for countless college students for decades.

The regular crowd of budget-conscious college students inspired Paul Joseph to institute one of El Patio’s decades-long trademarks: serving crackers with salsa. The students would come in and eat free tortilla chips and salsa, spending hardly any money and making a mess. So Paul Joseph started putting Saltines on the table to control costs. The packages of crackers remained an El Patio fixture until the mid 1990s, when the tortilla chips returned, but you can still get a packet of Saltines if you ask for them.

David Joseph and his sisters eventually took over control of the day-to-day operations at the restaurant and continued the legacy of serving as an integral part of the community.

“It was a blessing,” David Joseph said of running the restaurant. “It wasn’t easy, but my parents set the footprint and made it iconic, and my sisters and I just carried the torch.”

Asked about what he hopes the legacy will be of the restaurant that has lasted a lifetime, David Joseph responded with one word: family.

“From day one it was a family restaurant. You walked in and it didn’t matter who you were, you were treated like family,” David Joseph said. “I want to say thank you to the City of Austin and the surrounding areas.”