"The founders come from multiple generations," said David González, manager at El Tenampa. "They started from a Gran Ranchero that was (in) Parkersburg, West Virginia. Then they decided to come over here to Athens, they opened one Gran Ranchero on E. State St. Then they decided to make a business here."
El Tenampa is the third restaurant they opened, and González was there from the beginning. He is one of the first three people to work at the restaurant and the only original employee still working there.
"I just like to work in restaurants," he said. "I like to communicate with all the people (who come here). I have a chance to meet a lot of people, make friends and also I just love my job. I love what I'm doing here."
It's that passion and love for his job that makes González such a valuable member of the team.
"I don't feel like they're forcing me to do what I'm doing," he said. "I'm just doing it because I love it."
One of the things that makes El Tenampa stand out is the restaurant's atmosphere. González describes it as warm, friendly and welcoming.
"I personally thank the students here who always come over here and choose our places to have dinner with the family or have a drink here," he said.
However, like many businesses, El Tenampa has had to adapt to the challenges posed by COVID-19.
"It was bad," González said, referring to the pandemic. "It affected a lot of our business. We actually shut down for a couple of months."
González said they even had to let some workers go. However, the team at El Tenampa didn't give up, and González said they worked hard to make sure that they could continue serving their customers safely and responsibly.
"Right now, we're getting back to normal," said González.
It is a popular spot for OU students, with wait times typically around dinner hours each weekend. The restaurant is also a hit with locals and visitors alike, although business might slow when students are gone.
"It's definitely sad when the students aren't here," said González.
However, their clientele is wider than the student population of Athens. He said they have visitors from in and out of town and encourages anyone who has yet to try the establishment to sample it.
The menu at El Tenampa is full of delicious Mexican dishes from tacos and burritos to fajitas and enchiladas; there's something to suit every taste. In addition to the amazing food, students say the atmosphere, staff and sense of community keep people coming back.
Caprice Colucci, a sophomore studying finance, said although she had not sampled any of the drink offerings, her roommate is a fan. Colucci intends to revisit the establishment with her parents to try the margaritas, and she expressed her appreciation for the affordable pricing of the restaurant, adding it is on par with college town pricing.
"I just like to come here," she said. "The staff is really nice, they're really quick when they get the food out. The food is really good."
El Tenampa is also recognized as one of the best places in town to enjoy an excellent margarita, and they have a 4.5 star Yelp review to prove it. Their signature margarita towers are a hit among the student body, with González saying they are the most popular drink at the restaurant.
It's no wonder why: the combination of high-quality tequila, various flavor options and the 88-ounce tower to share are hard to say no to. However, there are smaller options with the same great flavors also available.
Hayden Gladden, a freshman studying mechanical engineering, is fond of El Tenampa as it reminds him of a similar spot from his hometown.
"I do really like the atmosphere here," he said. "It's the wooden aesthetic with the dimmer lights, and they have different murals across the walls."
Gladden looks forward to visiting the restaurant with his family before the school year's end and has already visited with his friends.
González said he and his team enjoy their work, and he hopes those who come into the business feel the way he feels about El Tenampa.
"Whatever I do, it comes from my heart," González said. "I'm happy. Even if I can find another job somewhere else and go to another state, another town … here is the place for me.”