If you’ve driven through downtown Liberty over the last couple of weeks, you may have noticed a lot of changes underway at the Casa don Boni Restaurant on Main Street. Outside the building is a new sign announcing a name change to “Pueblo’s Tex-Mex Kitchen.” The changes are the result of a shift in ownership from the Venegas family of Liberty to the Lozano family of Cleveland, owners of Pueblo Viejo.
After 20 years of operating Casa don Boni, Juan Venegas, patriarch of the Venegas family, made the decision to retire, though he worries that people will wonder, “Where is Juan?” He hopes to assure his friends and customers that his exit is by choice.
“I am ready for someone else to take over. I am looking forward to another project, something I can do on a smaller scale,” Venegas said.
The last few years have been challenging for Venegas, from Hurricane Harvey flooding of the restaurant, to losing his parents in 2019, and then battling to remain open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My parents depended on me for the last 30 years. When they died, everything changed. I just didn’t want to keep the restaurant going. My wife and I have been working 17 hours a day for the last 20 years. As soon as my parents passed, I told my wife, Maria, that it was time for us to retire and stop working so much,” he said.
Venegas grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico. As a young boy, he worked the fields of his family’s farm and milked and tended to their cattle. A life-changing event occurred one day while he was out working in the field with his beloved grandfather, Bonifocio “Papa Boni” Aranda. His grandfather collapsed and later died as a result of a tumor.
“I was very attached to him. I came to America when I was just 14 years old, just a few years after his death. I always kept his memory and teaching of how to work hard and save money. When I was a boy, I never thought I was going to run a restaurant, but 20 years later, I set some goals, one of which was to run a restaurant. When I was creating the name of the restaurant, I knew I needed to use my grandfather’s name. I was one of the grandkids with the privilege to be like him – to have my own business,” he said.
From there was born the name Casa don Boni, which translates in English to House of Boni. Through diligence and perseverance, he first obtained his legal residency to work in the United States and later went on to earn his citizenship.
In the Houston area, he found employment first as a grocery store stocker and later in restaurants, picking up knowledge of all aspects of the restaurant business along the way. He has shared that knowledge with an estimated 50 members of his family who have worked for the restaurant.
“I’ve lived the incredible American dream. I have been so blessed. To me, as a boy who grew up in Mexico and came here 42 years ago, the idea of being in business seemed almost impossible,” he said.
Though he arrived in Texas with only a sixth-grade education, he went on to graduate from Lee College in 2011 with an associate degree in Business Administration. Venegas is grateful to have been a part of the business community in Liberty for the last two decades and for the warm welcome he received from the very start.
While running his successful business, Venegas joined the Liberty-Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce (now known as the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce) and was made the first Hispanic to serve on the Chamber’s board of directors. He also was a board member for the Housing Authority, served as a member of the City of Liberty Beautification Committee and on the advisory boards related to community development and law enforcement.
He also served on the 2010 Census board representing the Hispanic community, the Parish Council at Immaculate Conception Church, the Liberty ISD Bilingual/ESL Program Effectiveness Review Team and LISD Career Technology Team, and has received accolades from local mayors for feeding volunteers and first responders after both Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Rita.
According to Venegas, he learned the importance of having an exit strategy during college, and one year ago he began to put this lesson into action. Putting his future in God’s hands, he says his faith has grown exponentially, and he is looking forward to now reaping the rewards of his life’s hard work.