Whether it was your first or fifth time stepping into Helen’s Casa Alde in downtown Buda, Helen Alcala made it her mission to get to know you.
Alcala, the matriarch of Helen’s Casa Alde, which opened its doors in 1980, always showed a smile and always did her best to greet and get to know the thousands who patronized her business over the years.
“She met so many people and has talked to so many people over the course of 37 years, but she could remember someone at the drop of a hat,” Remy Alcala, Helen’s granddaughter said.
Perhaps it’s fitting that following Helen’s peaceful passing Sunday, thousands who frequented her business remembered and honored a pioneer whose restaurant has become a home-away-from-home for Buda residents.
“When people move out of town, they let us know they come back to this place,” Alcala said. “You didn’t come here for just the tacos. You came here for (Helen).”
Helen Alcala, born in 1923, didn’t open the Casa Alde until 1980 when she was 57 years old. Prior to that time, Helen, who grew up in the Buda area, raised three children and fulfilled a career within Hays CISD.
Following her retirement from Hays CISD, Helen worked at the Texas School for the Deaf. At the same time, Helen made money on the side by selling breakfast tacos at the local cement plant in town.
With the financial and emotional assistance of Ezekiel DeLeon, her brother-in-law, Helen opened the Casa Alde, which at the time was not only the first Mexican restaurant in Buda, but also was the only restaurant on Main Street.
Buda Mayor Todd Ruge lauded Helen, who at the time took a gamble, when most people are thinking about retirement.
“She jumped head-first into a new career as a restaurant owner. It’s remarkable,” Ruge said. “It’s really amazing that someone that worked so hard in their entire life until that point, said, ‘I need a new challenge.’”
From that point forward, Helen worked tirelessly in her restaurant. Bennie Ferretiz, who has worked at Helen’s for a decade, remembered Helen as a “hard-working” person who was also very giving.
J.R. Gonzales, Buda Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, said it was quite an accomplishment for Helen to start a business, especially as a minority female business owner in the 1980s.
“Anytime someone starts a business, it’s a difficult road to hoe … Being female, and a Hispanic female, in the 1980s was even more difficult.”
J.R. Gonzales, Buda Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director
Even after she stopped working at Casa Alde, Helen continued to inquire about her business. She regularly made appearances at the restaurant, greeting customers and chatting with them. She did this until her health began to decline in 2016.
“She still wanted to know what was going on,” Remy said. “She cared about this place. This was her entire life.”
Even after her death, many in the community remember a woman who kept a smile and genial attitude.
Gonzales said Helen was someone that “had a heart of gold” and never had a bad word to say about anyone. He felt she left her mark on Buda and the legacy of the restaurant will continue.
Over the course of 37 years, Helen’s Casa Alde has served multiple generations of Buda area residents. Remy, a Hays High graduate, saw many of her friends go to Casa Alde while she was growing up. Many of them are now bringing their children to the restaurant.
Chris Moore, a Hays High graduate and patron of Casa Alde, said Helen was family to many in the area. To some, she was a grandmother figure.
But Moore said he was surprised when he first saw Helen work in the restaurant.
“She was like my grandma in the kitchen,” Moore said. “But she was in her 60s or 70s and was still busting out tickets left and right.”
Remy said many customers now approach her and are sharing their fond memories of her grandmother. Some of the memories hearken back to days before she had been born. Hundreds have also placed their memories of Helen on the busienss’ Facebook page following her death.
For Remy, continuing her grandmother’s mission of getting to know her customers is her goal.
“It’s not just my loss, it’s not just my family’s loss, it’s all of our loss,” Remy said.