HARLINGEN — A recognizable face will be missed by many at Las Vegas Cafe. On Tuesday April 20, Julio Charles passed away at Valley Baptist Medical Center.
Julio, 89, was born and raised in Harlingen and had 14 siblings. He is survived by his wife, Eloina Macias Charles, 93, and his children, Betty Sosa, Lori Davila, Julie Charles and Julio Albert Charles. Eloina and Julio got married in 1963 and a year later, their longtime business started.
In 1964, they opened their well known restaurant, Las Vegas Cafe. Eloina had heard there was an opportunity to rent next to Las Vegas Lounge, which back then was a bar. “I told him to rent it because I knew how to do business and to cook,” Eloina said.
Julio worked at Piggly Wiggly, a grocery store for more than 30 years. Many of his customers recognized him from his work there.
“I convinced him but we did not have any money. He took out a loan of $300,” she said.
When the couple started their business venture, every utensil came from their household because they did not have money to buy plates or cups. The restaurant originally had only three tables and a counter, which continues to be the counter standing now.
At the tables, people who did not know each other would sit and eat together. From bankers to engineers who sat with mechanics. Many friendships started at the three Las Vegas Cafe tables.
Eloina cooked and cleaned while Julio continued to work at Piggly Wiggly. Slowly but surely their small business began to grow. Eight years later Julio came to the restaurant to work full time. Julio worked the front and Eloina in the back. He would sit down customers, and his children described him as doing so always with a smile. He knew everyone’s names and met children who are now grandfathers.
“Our dad was very kind, very generous and treated everyone the same,” Sosa said.
“They were a good team together,” Davila said. Now, she and Julie run the restaurant.
Julio used to wear a name tag which said, “owner, janitor, everything,” and worked tirelessly until he was 83. However, even when he was retired, he visited the restaurant twice a day.
Yet when their business began to prosper, Julio and Eloina would take two weeks off to go on vacation. They visited Europe, Hawaii, Mexico, among many other places.
Among his many great traits, Julio was known for never getting upset or saying no.
“His feathers were never ruffled,” Davila said.
Julio Alberto Charles, the youngest of the siblings, said he does not recall his father ever getting after him or raising his voice.
“He left an impact, he followed that righteous path. He would not lie, steal or cheat, he as honest,” Davila said.
Eloina described him as the best man in the world. A patient man as opposed to her, nervous.
“He took his time with everything, he was very calm,” she said.
His children remembered how even at the grocery stores he visited to shop for the restaurant, he was well known.
“He treated people very kindly and he was witty,” all of them said.
Las Vegas Cafe announced his passing on its Facebook on Tuesday. Over 900 comments expressed sentiment and admiration for Julio. One thing he was known for was playfully tugging on children’s pigtails or ponytails. Several people commented on the same memories which they fondly remembered.
“These kids are now grown up and are mothers and they remember,” Davila said.
“It is so wonderful reading all these wonderful comments,” Julie said.
A down to earth man, his children described him as. Even when the restaurant became popular, he was always the same.
“Always grounded and humble and genuine,” Julio said.
Soon after, they bought Las Vegas Lounge and became owners of the property they used to rent.
Julio and Eloina started from the bottom, with only $300 and together they built a strong business which has now become a family legacy.
“Between mom and dad it was hard work, determination, sweat and tears. We never heard ‘no it can’t be done,’” Davila said.
Julie remembered whenever she and Davila were stressed out, Julio would always tell them everything would be OK and to calm down. Both she and Davila worked at the restaurant, in every position, cashier, waiting tables, everything.
“He taught us wonderful values, work ethic,” Julie said.
Because of COVID-19 precautions, Eloina and Julio stopped visiting the restaurant for almost a year. After being vaccinated, they recently went back. Julio visited two weeks ago on a Tuesday and Thursday and said hello to his employees, without knowing it would be his last goodbye. The following week, he passed.
“El Patron, they would call him, Don Julio, they loved him,” Davila and Sosa said.
Las Vegas Cafe has employees working for more than 40 or 20 years. The staff became a second family to the Charles family. After Julio’s passing, employees wore black bows on their sleeves to honor Don Julio.
“That was their idea, they have been wearing it every day. That was touching,” Davila said.
Julio will be remembered for his generosity, his kindness and his love for his family.
“He was very noble, I am going to miss him very much. I loved him very much,” Eloina said.
“We all do,” they said.