This monthly Caller-Times series called Back to Business showcases businesses and leaders in the Corpus Christi area.
Whether it has been a staple in the Sparkling City by the Sea for decades or just opened its door in the past few years, each business has its own special story.
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Downtown Corpus Christi is home to upscale restaurants and bars for those 21 and up. But Tony Maldonado and Oneida Cantu wanted to provide a space counteractive to that.
The married couple opened Fresco in June 2019’s ArtWalk to give people a laidback snack spot to mingle, play board games and enjoy a daily agua fresca flavor.
Cantu, 32, and Maldonado, 33, said they consider themselves an underdog of the community and love proving people wrong.
“We just want to be taken seriously,” Cantu said. “I feel like our age, or the concept of what Fresco is, is not taken seriously. The people who hang out here feel open to be themselves because of the people who are here. They see us as these weird kids on the block.”
The location offers a variety of food, but the couple said Fresco’s most popular dish is its rice bowl. The meal comes with jasmine rice, charro beans, queso fresco, avocado, pico de gallo and your choice of carne guisada, chicken tinga or chickpeas with veggies.
While Fresco is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, the owners remain positive.
“Eventually, we’ll be back to normal,” Cantu said.
Q: Why the name “Fresco”?
OC: Both of our background and culture is based very much in the Mexican culture. We wanted to play an ode to that. We chose the Spanish word of “fresh” for our business. I thought “fresh” was just a good concept of a restaurant. If we decided to just do fresh fruit, it wouldn’t matter because that concept of “fresh” was there.
TM: We’re not tied down to one thing.
OC: It gave us the ability to be whatever we want it to be. Whatever we felt downtown needed. We wanted to be the fresh idea.
Q: How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect Fresco?
OC: It impacted us. We were able to keep afloat with a food truck. It helped keep us mobile.
TM: Downtown was dead. During COVID, there was no reason to be here. The bars weren’t open and the restaurants weren’t open. You were going to eat in town. We had to maneuver and started doing curbside. A lot of our regular customers were here all the time and helped keep us going. The food truck helped us gain a lot of new customers. Once we reopened, our customer base was a little bit bigger. If we didn’t have that food truck and that little bit of adapting — there’s no way.
Q: What has been the high point for Fresco?
OC: I really enjoy having a space for people who don’t necessary always get space. I want to be a place where anybody can feel free to come in and ask to throw an event here. At the end of the day, for the most part, we’re not going to say no. We work with everybody. Sometimes, I feel that our city doesn’t necessarily give people here a shot to do what they want to do. For Fresco, the high point, so far, is having that space where people aren’t turned away.
TM: It’s kind of funny because they ask to speak to us about an idea they have and you can tell they’re so ready for that “no.” Then we’re like, “Yeah! Just let us know what we can do to help.” It’s always cool being able to tell people yes, giving the underdog a chance. We’re privileged to have this spot. If we can help any member of the community have a piece of this platform, then we’re all for it.
Q: What has been the low point for Fresco?
TM: COVID. Trying to keep up with paying everything. Making, like, $500 a week at the farmers market during COVID. We knew COVID wasn’t forever; we knew we had to make it through to come back and reestablish ourselves. The food truck was a lot of work. Shout out to everybody who owns a food truck because it’s not for everybody.
OC: You’re in this hot little thing for six hours and it’s tough.
Q: What is your personal business philosophy?
TM: The way I run this business is we open and try to serve everybody as fast as possible. If someone comes in and berates one of my staff, they’re going to hate me because they’re in the wrong. I’ve been working in restaurants since I was 16. Everything I’ve seen wrong with every restaurant I’ve worked in employee — or food-wise — I try to do the opposite. If I include enough people from the community, and they feel welcome, they’re going to be here forever. The community will always be here. The community always comes first. Our main priority is not our customers, but our people.
Q: What are your future goals with Fresco?
TM: No idea. It’s been such a wild ride with cooking and opening Fresco. I cooked for Cheech (Marin) one time and I thought that was it. I try to stay humble about it, but I always stay excited for the next thing we do. Whatever that may be.
OC: I hope we are able to continue to hold space for everyone around us. I hope we can not only stay here but progressively get bigger and better. With us growing, it will give us more leeway to help people. I want us to help our community as much as possible.
Q: What is the best advice you can give someone who wants to start their own business?
OC: You have to work a lot. There’s going to be days where you’re so tired and you’re like, “I think I’m going to close today.” It’s helpful to have honest people on your team for when you don’t feel good or positive. You can have that help from reinforcements.
TM: You don’t want a lot of “yes men” around you. I’ve talked to a lot of people who say they’re going to start their business and then after six months hire a manager so they can take it easy and collect money. I’ve been here every day, 14 hours for three years. I don’t know what secret they have, but that’s not how it works. You’re going to be working more than all your employees put together and deal with it.
Address: 619 N. Chaparral St.
Phone: 361-333-0357
Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; noon to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
More: Back to Business: Here’s how kids are the ‘bread and butter’ to Hurricane Alley Waterpark
More: Corpus Christi City Council approves creation of tourism public improvement district
More: Here’s a dozen Corpus Christi restaurants where you can grab a juicy burger
John Oliva covers entertainment and community news in South Texas. Contact him at or Twitter @johnpoliva
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