On Dec. 4, Ramirez took over Coyoacan Mexican Restaurant, which opened in the Gresham Village shopping center two years ago.
“I wanted to do this a long time ago, but I got sidetracked” by politics, he said. Ramirez said he was the first Hispanic to be elected as a Tyler city council member, and held that office from 1987 to 1993.
He was a Smith County commissioner from 1995 to 2002; and in 2006, he ran against incumbent state Rep. Leo Berman.
Ramirez said on Dec. 20 he plans to run again for office but he wouldn't say which political race he was contemplating.
Ramirez's father, Gilbert Ramirez, founded Gilbert's El Charro on East Erwin Street in 1952 and added the second restaurant on Fifth Street 10 years later.
Ramirez, 59, recalls peeling garlic when he was 7, helping out at the restaurant with his three brothers. He has been running El Charro No. 2 for years.
In 1975, Ramirez's father passed away. “He was a dynamic individual,” he said of his dad. “My father was my hero and always has been.”
Ramirez said his father couldn't read or write English and people told him he couldn't make it as a business owner. He came to America from Mexico when he was about 16 or 17, Ramirez said.
He recalls business tidbits his father always told him. “You've got to have something coming and going, from the back to the front of the restaurant,” he said his dad advised.
Ramirez recently retired from the family business to follow his 30-year-old dream of opening his own eatery.
Ramirez also has several nephews, uncles and other relatives who own restaurants in East Texas and other areas. “That's how much influence my dad had,” he said referring to the family of restaurateurs.
Ramirez and his wife of 34 years, Patsy, have two children. Laura, 32, has two children and recently earned a master's degree, and Nicholas, 23, is working on his master's degree. Both children have helped out with the new business.
Gus' holds about 100 people inside and offers outside patio seating and a drive-thru window.
“It's really a quaint place,” Ramirez said.
When buying the restaurant from the former owner, Mario Borja, Ramirez kept all seven staff members, including Chef Mike Nelson. He also retained the same menus made up of Mexican cuisine, such as enchiladas, nachos and fajitas, as well as Asian dishes like kung pao chicken and Szechuan beef.
Ramirez said blending the two foods is a “fantastic concept” that is popular in larger cities. He plans to tweak the menu some and add a few things he learned from his father. He will also add some new platters.
Ramirez doesn't know if his father would have agreed to keep the Asian cuisines on the menu since it is more expensive. Many of the dishes include steak and shrimp.
“Buy cheap and sell high, my dad always said,” Ramirez recalled, adding that they would laugh together when he said it.
Ramirez said since opening the new restaurant, he has been there from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. nearly every day, missing his daily runs and sometimes napping in his car.
“I'm proud to see all of these friends of mine,” Ramirez said, referring to longtime friends and customers who have stopped to dine in his new eatery.