Richie’s plans late summer return

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The fire was what they call “fully involved.” Afterward, practically nothing stood at what hours before had been Richie’s Grill and Café, a mainstay of the Hawkins community at the corner of US 80 and FM 14.    

That fire may have destroyed a building, but to the indomitable proprietor, Ricardo (Ricky) Perez, it was not an end but a beginning. 

Scorched into the east wall of the smoking embers that Tuesday morning in 2018 was a large wooden cross. The fire damaged but did not consume the cross. 

Thinking that it had survived for a reason, Perez left the cross on the wall for some time.

“The cross needed to be there,” he stated.

At a later point, when the new Richie’s was being prepared, he felt he must take the cross.

“The significance of the cross is that God is showing me the right way,” he reflected.  

That same charred cross is already on the wall at the new Richie’s Grill and Café, expected to open later this summer at the intersection of FM 14 and CR 2869, the four corners just north of Hawkins.  

The cross also remains on that east wall at the old site. The intense heat burned an outline of the wooden cross into the wall. It remains today. 

The survival of the cross, its salvage and its shadow, are open to a million interpretations. However, the heart of the man who salvaged that cross, Ricky Perez, is a matter of certainty. 

Perez lives to serve. His dedication to helping others is legendary in Wood County. His deeds earn the unfailing loyalty of his employees and acquaintances. As a close friend shared, “Everything he does helps someone else.”

As an example of his selflessness, following the fire, Perez worked tirelessly to secure employment for the 25 people whose livelihood had just gone up in smoke.   

It is hard to comprehend how someone who had an extremely tough start to life could mature into a man governed by the golden rule. Perez left his family at age 12 and made his way to the Texas-Mexico border, where he lived in a church before crossing into the U.S. 

Before reaching adulthood, he had witnessed truly awful events.

“I made the decision early not to have hate in my life,” he said.

Hard work in local dairies and tree farms followed his arrival to the States. Along the way he modified his commitment of avoiding hate in his life.

He explained, “I saw others suffering and sought to help them as well.”

One success led to another and in 1998 he opened his first restaurant, in Canton.

Today, Perez is fully engaged in running the Richie’s in Winnsboro (just across from Brookshire’s), readying the site at the four corners to open, and helping others.

That philanthropy is best known for the free Thanksgiving dinners that Richie’s offers each year. Last year, the Winnsboro location served over 580 people at no charge. Donations were accepted but not solicited. One little known aspect of that day is that his staff voluntarily worked without pay.

“It was all hands on deck that day,” Ricky explained, “and the staff gave their holiday to serve the community.”

Talk with Perez and that word “community” comes up often.

“Community brought us back to Hawkins,” he stated. He explained that God’s love makes a difference in people’s lives and when they then come together, God influences the community.

Perez admits the challenges of breaking into established rural towns, calling it “breaking through peoples’ coldness.”

He uses humility and kindness to break through.

“I have no fear of prejudice,” he explained, “my sacrifices and kindness have an effect, and I forgive.” From the number of requests he has had from around the county to reopen in Hawkins, it is clear that his kindnesses have had a marked effect on area residents.    

The list of sacrifices goes on and on. The most recent recipients were Camp Deer Run, a Christian summer camp, and the rehabilitation facilities The Gideons and Mercy Mansion, both in Winnsboro.

The new Richie’s is a work in progress. Significant improvements to the sanitation system as well as fire suppression systems are yet needed. With the efforts of business partner, Marine veteran Ira T. Price, leading the renovations, a late summer grand opening is looking good. 

Area residents will soon be able to enjoy the salads, catfish, shrimp dishes, onion rings and fajita butter for which the restaurant is known. A number of former staff from the old Richie’s are expected to return, so familiar faces should be there.  

Meanwhile, the site of old Richie’s has just hosted its first Hawkins farmers market.  Landowner James Hughes offered the site, but deferred use of his name on the market. He suggested instead that the naming convention should go to Perez and Richie’s. 

Nine proprietors set up wares at the opening of the market June 13. Among them were Jody Horten of Jody’s Custom Catering, Melanie Humber marketing barn wood reclamation products, and baked goods from Betsy Hansard at Wood County Mercantile. Most notably, Landon Burns (10) and Walker Fannin (11) did brisk business selling night-crawlers under the marquee F.B. Worm Farm.

According to Hawkins Chamber of Commerce President Danielle Delint, the market holds great promise for the community. It is one of several initiatives forthcoming to bring the community together for business and relaxation. From a movie night in the park to hosting small businesses in the chamber building, things are moving forward in Hawkins.

Highway 80, the East Texas connector, runs from Dallas to Shreveport and through the fabric of this little bit of Texas. Travelers have long had their favorite cafés along the route: the Bluebird in Wills Point, the Lumber Yard Café in Edgewood, Mineola’s East Texas Burger Company, and Richie’s Grill and Café in Hawkins.  

Richie’s has been missed for the past two years, and now it’s coming back.

“I would like to thank the community of Hawkins,” Perez stated. “I am very grateful that they want us here…home is where you are welcome,” he concluded.