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Hays Free Press * August 28, 2013 NEIGHBORS Page 5C Happy birthday, Helen Buda community icon celebrates 90th birthday Celebrations of a 90th birthday don't come around that often, and when you con- sider that this 90-year-old still comes to work every day, it is even more amazing. The Alcala family, owners of Casa Aide in downtown Buda, will be celebrating the 90th birthday of Helen Rodriguez Aicala, who founded Casa Aide with her husband more than 30 years ago. The Buda Area Chamber of Commerce is putting together the festivities Friday, Aug. 30, beginning at 9:30 a.m. What drives Helen Aicala? For that, we go back to a story written about the restaurant eight years ago. It's all about food, community service, family and caring. It is the life she has lived - all in Buda. While the story chronicles the restaurant's years, you can tell that Helen is the driving force. This story original ran July 14, 2005 and was written by former editor Ien Biundo. here's something special about the tortillas at Helen's Casa Aide. At first glance, you'll see they measure about three times the thick- ness of a store-bought tortilla, dense and substantial, with rough edges that make each as unique as a rustic snowflake. After one bite, you realize these sweet, chewy tortillas can hold their own against the drippiest chorizo or most lib- eral dousing of pico de gallo. By the time you've deci- mated the breakfast taco snugly contained in one of these homemade tortillas, you can understand why Helen's Casa Aide has thrived on Main Street for more than 25 years. Helen Alcala calculates that she's made about 4 million of those tortillas since July 1980, when she opened Casa Aide with her husband, Pedro "Pete" Alcala. And though Aicala is 81 years old (in 2005), she still rules the kitchen with vigor, rolling out tortillas to a new generation of Buda residents. What's the secret to running such a successful business? "I gueSs it's jUst the Way we treat customers," Alcala said. "We know nearly everybody that comes in here. If they're new, we try to tell them that they're welcome here, and they should come back. And they do, they do come back. And we have good help, people who really care for their work," When pressed, Aicala adds modestly, "Well, everyone says the food is great." Like her restaurant, Helen Alcala's own roots stretch way back in Buda. Her grandfather and father, she said, were the first Mexicans to live in Buda. They arrived in 1913, found work on a local farm, and saved enough money to bring the rest of the Rodriguez fam- ily up from Mexico. "They said it was very hard," Aicala said. "They said they couldn't even go out at night- somebody would throw rocks at them. It's really changed now. When we were growing up it was okay." Helen Rodriguez Aicala was born in 1923 in the small community of Goforth, which has since been absorbed into Buda. As the oldest of 10 chil- dren, she had to leave school after junior high, as did her younger sister, Cuca Rodri- guez, and find work to help support the family. DuringWorldWar II, the sis- ters worked at Buda Grocery, then owned by Gerald and Mary Montague. (Editor's note: Buda Grocery was located in the building now housing Cleveland's Restaurant.) Alcala recalls the coffee and sugar shortage during the war. A photo of the young Helen Rodriguez shows a beautiful young woman with wavy jet black hair, creamy skin and 1940s glamour, gazing bright- eyed into the camera. Buda residents remember her hus- band, Pedro Alcala, as one of the most dashingly handsome men in town. The Aicalas married in 1947 and had three children, Ernest, Rene and Linda. Like true Budaltes of the middle 1900s, all three were "Doc McCor- mick babies," delivered by the beloved Buda family practi- tioner. Pedro Aicala worked as a handyman and janitor, while Helen Aicala took jobs as a cook, at the Hays School district and then at the Texas School for the Deaf in South Austin. In 1980, Cuca's husband, Ezekial DeLeon, lent the Aicalas money to start the restaurant. Casa Aide opened in July 1980. At that time, Helen Aicala was working one week on and one week offat the Texas School for the Deaf. In her alternate weeks off, she would work all seven days at the restaurant. And in the other weeks, she recalled with a laugh, her husband had to learn how to make tortillas. "I worked for a while like that," Aicala recalled. "The restaurant wasn't successful at first. At first we struggled, and thought maybe we're going to have to close. It was very slow but started picking up. Buda was so small, even when we opened. You knew everyone." That persistence paid off. Pedro Alcala died in 1992, leaving his widow a quietly thriving restaurant. Today, Casa Aide is the oldest eatery on Main Street, and perennially popular, do- ing a bustling trade on early morning breakfast tacos and overflowing lunch plates. Though Aicala is 81 (in July 2005), the beauty remains from the intense girl in the 1940s photograph, in her clear skin, bright eyes and slow but graceful movement. Aicala is a quietly gracious hostess in her restaurant, welcoming customers with a soft Spanish accent and wide smile. Alcala and her son Emie arrive at 4 a.m. and begin the two-hour process of making the day's supply of tortillas. Taking dough mixed the night before, Alcala mixed in hot water- as hot as you can stand it, she says - and forms rough balls, which she then rolls into a fiat circle with a metal pin and stores in a cooler. Throughout the day, the cooks throw the rolled tortillas on the grill, where they cook brown and bubbly. (Editor's note: Ernie has died since this story ran. Her son Rene, daughter-in-law Lil- lian and granddaughter Remy now join Helen each morning at the restaurant.) It may seem like a big task when homemade tortillas are an exception rather than a rule, but Alcala wouldn't have it any other way. "Store bought tortillas? We don't like them," Alcala says, just a touch primly but with a humoring smile. "If we run out, somebody runs to the back and makes more." When asked the secret to the perfect tortillas, Alcala pauses for a moment. "I don't know," Alcala says. "We're so used to making them, we just make them. The trick is to make them from scratch." With business booming from the areas growth, the Aicalas have cut back on the hours. Aicala has no intention of retiring any time soon, if ever. "The work is good for me," Aicala said. "When I'm home, I lay down a lot. My bones get more tired doing nothing than they do at work." After 25 years in the res- taurant business, Alcala says without hesitation that she would do it all over again. She's met so many nice people, she's had the pride of owning a suc- cessful restaurant, and most of all, she's had the joy of watch- ing people enjoy her cooking. "My favorite part is when somebody says, 'This is the best meal I've had,'" Aicala says with a beaming smile. "Oh, it makes me feel so good. I really appreciate that." d'sh=,.. 800"315"3973 ORDER NOW PHOTO BY DAVID WHITE -- ADMISSION-- Tickets go on sale August I" Age 7 and under are free $25 a person (4 days prepaid through stubwire.com) $30 at gate $40 per campsite -- EN'rRTAIMI,:NT -- , Moccasin Creek Saturday night v BYOB Live DJ by the Pits Sat. & Sun. night NO GLASS Spectucal Fireworks show Sun. night FEATUilING Side by Side .7 Ac. 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