The smell hits customers when they walk in the door. Someone has been cooking for hours, and dinner is going to be delicious. It could be the roasted pork or the “famous” bread pudding, the flavor of which changes daily. Chef and co-owner Johanna Vadhar says she loves it when a customer walks in and says, “It smells just like my grandma’s house!”
Vadhar and her husband of 11 years, Manny, opened Tipico Café in Atascocita in July 2012. Together, they serve food that is a fusion of Central American, South American, Cuban and Puerto Rican cuisines.
“My mom is from El Salvador and my dad from Honduras. Manny is Indian and Haitian. He’s a creative cook. He does most of the cooking at Tipico. I come and season certain things and do all the desserts. In Spanish, they say every person has their own “sazon.” Meaning, you can give several people the same ingredients, but each will create a different tasting dish. People tell me that I have a very good sazon,” said Vadahr.
Two of the most popular items on the current menu, which changes about every six months, are “Chuletas Empanizadas,” a breaded and pan-fried pork chop, served with rice, black beans and plantains, and the Cuban sandwich, served on French bread with roasted pork, sliced ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard, and accompanied by yucca fries or rice and beans. Entrees and starters range from $8 to $12.
The Vadhar’s had various other jobs, outside the restaurant industry, prior to opening Tipico.
“I didn’t realize what my calling was until I was well into my 30s,” said Vadhar. “It just came to me one day. I had been cooking at home. I was the house you could go to on Sunday for dinner. I would look for recipes that would keep me in the kitchen all day, because I loved being in the kitchen.”
Opening the restaurant ended up being a bigger challenge than they imagined. “It was a huge learning curve for us. We were very naive about what it would take. When we opened Tipico, we were depleted financially. It took well over $50,000 to open the doors,” said Vadhar.
Her mom, who owns a store in the same shopping plaza, helped them financially and also suggested the location.
“In July, we just finally got a commercial stove and deep fryer, which is helping us cook faster,” she said.
For the first two years, they were using domestic appliances.
Working together, side by side, day in and day out, has held challenges for the couple.
“There are trying times. I’m very vocal and don’t have any boundaries. We fight. A fish was thrown against the wall one time,” said Vadhar.
Tipico is open Tuesday-Thursday from 11-8, Friday and Saturday from 11-9 and is closed Sunday and Monday. Reservations are necessary for one of the 10 tables on weekend nights, however, orders can always be placed to go by calling 281-973-9706.
Tipico is located at 5758 FM 1960 and does not have a liquor license, but patrons are invited to bring wine or beer to enjoy with dinner.
“We are very appreciative of the support from the community. It’s been overwhelming and totally changed my perspective of humanity. Things we have seen in this restaurant, people leaving generous tips, it’s really sweet,” said Vadhar.
The Vadhars find rewards owning and operating their restaurant.