The Medina family of Cleveland, Texas, owners of El Burrito Restaurants in Cleveland and Liberty, recently suffered a great loss with the passing of two matriarchs in a month’s time.
The El Burrito restaurant in Cleveland was first founded by the late Henry May and Paula Lynn McGee, who were married and living in Cleveland when they started the restaurant in 1983. In later years, following the couple’s divorce, May opened up the former Mas Amigos Restaurant, which in 2019 reopened as El Burrito’s Liberty location.
May has been deceased for many years and McGee passed away in December 2022. While McGee’s death did not come as a surprise, as she was 80 years old and suffering from medical conditions, the death of the couple’s only surviving daughter, Tammy Medina, 62, on Jan. 3, 2023, came as a total shock to the family.
“Mom’s health wasn’t the greatest, but we didn’t think she was going to die,” said Tammy’s son, Joseph Medina.
Medina expressed his appreciation for all the calls of concern following the passing of his grandmother and mother.
“I am grateful for everyone reaching out to check on my family. My phone hasn’t stopped ringing for days. I am truly blessed to have people who really care about us and are sending their condolences,” he said.
When El Burrito first opened in Cleveland in 1983, Medina said it was one of only a handful of restaurants and it was the only Mexican food restaurant in the community at the time.
“The first couple of days were a madhouse. The first weeks they were open, my grandparents said the cooler stopped working, so they had to rent a refrigerated truck, and my grandfather slept in it for three days until the cooler was fixed,” Medina said, relating stories passed down to him by his grandparents.
At the time, El Burrito in Cleveland was located in Truly Plaza, the shopping center where H-E-B is located today. It operated from that leased space for three years until May and McGee purchased land for the current restaurant location at 422 S. Southline St., Cleveland.
“My grandfather got wind that they were building the new Highway 59, so he bought land from the Martin family and built the building we have today,” Medina said.
At one time, the family business extended to a Livingston location as well, but divorce and other complications brought an end to that one. McGee kept the El Burrito location in Cleveland while May and another business partner started Mas Amigos in Liberty. In later years, the Liberty restaurant went through name and ownership changes. However, in 2019, the family celebrated the reopening of the restaurant under the El Burrito name.
“My grandparents worked hard to build this business. They enjoyed their customers. They loved to see people happy. They were two people willing to do whatever they could to help someone. If you needed the shirt off their back, they would give it to you,” Medina said.
Though saddened by the passing of his grandmother and mother, Medina said he and his sister, Crystal, are determined to keep their legacy alive.
“The restaurants will continue. It will be me and my sister moving forward. I have been running things for the last 6-7 years,” he said. “As crazy as this sounds, my mom died on Monday, but I was at work Tuesday. I just wanted the employees at the restaurants to know they are going to be okay. We will keep on keeping on. We have been around for almost 40 years and plan to be around for many more years.”