Veronica Avila 2018

'Gutsy Gal' Veronica Avila
Wearing a black “Brisket is Sexy” T-shirt, Veronica Avila entered through the glass door of her latest project in Houston’s Sixth Ward, the Henderson & Kane General Store. She stumbled as a spotted neighborhood mutt tried to push under her feet and slip inside. “No, Sadie!,” chastised Avila, and the little dog compromised to patiently sit outside.
Avila, a formally trained architect, recently left her career of more than 13 years to partner with her husband, John, and serve as brand manager and owner of El Burro & the Bull Restaurant Group. Her new enterprise has her using her design skills to remodel and open the Henderson & Kane General Store and market her restaurants and branded T-shirts, including the “Brisket is Sexy” logo. Her future dream is to open a coffee and pastry shop on the Navigation Esplanade and to sell foods to Ninfa’s on Navigation.  

Nominated by her friend, Frances Castaneda Dyess, it almost comes as no surprise that go-getter Avila would be the recipient of Houston Woman Magazine’s 2018 Gutsy Gal Award. She was presented with the honor during the 12th Annual Nominate HER Awards Luncheon on August 22 at the Junior League of Houston.

As one of three children raised by a single mother in El Paso, Avila dedicated herself to schoolwork and prepared and served homecooked meals to her siblings. She studied Japanese and French with the hopes that one day she would move and travel abroad.

“El Paso is a military city,” said Avila. “I could see people coming from and going to all different places. I knew that it was a great big world out there.”

Upon graduating with the Class of 2000, Avila set her sights on joining the service. But, instead, she elected to pursue studies in the University of Houston School of Architecture.

“I loved to draw and was good in math,” commented Avila. “It was a good fit. I could develop skills in art, geometry and urban planning.”

While in college, Avila worked part-time at AIM Investments to help support her family and pay for her education. She learned the stock market, investing and retirement planning. She was also awarded many scholarships, with one providing for a study abroad in France.

In her last year at the university, Avila volunteered with the Community Design Resource Center, an organization focused on community engagement in low-income neighborhoods. There, she documented the needs of such communities and how to use governmental resources to create master plans and improvements.

After college, Avila spent the next three years working in a boutique architecture firm, where she focused on multi-family, restaurant and high-end residential design. Some of her notable projects included REEF seafood restaurant and Hungry’s Next Door, an eating establishment conversion from a former tire lube shop.

Wanting to tackle bigger jobs, Avila joined Gensler’s Hospitality Design Studio, a high-profile team specializing in four- and five-star hotel builds. She developed programs promoting guest relations and hospitality and worked on the Parisian Hotel in Macao (China), Austin’s Fairmont Hotel and Houston’s Post Oak and downtown J.W. Marriott hotels.

Between travels to China, Avila met her future husband, John. Over a cup of coffee, the couple bonded as they discovered a mutual future vision, to own and operate restaurants like their grandparents did.

John left his 10-year accounting career to move to New York and launch Morgan’s Brooklyn Barbecue, one of many restaurant brands on his resume, and Avila finalized the Parisian project in China. The two continued a long-distance relationship before returning to Houston to start their joint effort, El Burro & the Bull, a barbecue restaurant featuring the couple’s Tex-Mex heritage. They settled in Houston’s East End and bought a home near the Navigation Esplanade.

Partnering with the Greater East End Management District, the newlyweds set up pop-up dinners and a weekly night market, “Evenings on the Esplanade,” spotlighting their delicious barbecue.

Within months, they opened El Burro & the Bull in The Conservatory Food Hall & Beer Garden. Upon the operation’s first anniversary, Avila left Gensler to focus on her business full-time.

Approximately five years later, Avila’s projects thrived, and she desired to take on more. She and John bought and refurbished the building in which their Henderson & Kane General Store is located and began partnering with local farmers and artisans to offer a unique selection of coffees, pastries sustainable goods and barbecue. The two also started plans for a brick-and-mortar location for El Burro & the Bull.

“It’s like my passions are on steroids,” laughed Avila. “With each step, I have more dreams — collaborations, serving people, artistic branding, marketing and architecture. I’ve learned powerful lessons through hard work, and I want to take my connections to the extreme!”

The energetic Avila looked at her watch and glanced outside the glass door. Sadie the pooch was still there, happily greeting incoming patrons. Break time was over, and a new business partner was soon to arrive for a meeting. Avila excused herself and moved to a nearby counter to prepare.

The young architect/restaurant maven is certainly a “Gutsy Gal.” She has a hungry appetite for continued success and likes to keep her plate full. With each new effort, she builds her future empire.

Lisa Bunse is a freelance journalist and staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.

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