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What's in a name? Construction on LBJ forces Mario & Alberto to move and reopen as Real Maya

Real Maya restaurant
Real Maya has same menu, staff and spirit as Mario & Alberto's. Photo by Teresa Gubbins
Real Maya restaurant
No more Tex-Mex for now at old Mario & Alberto location. Photo by Teresa Gubbins

Real Maya opened October 4 as seemingly yet another new restaurant serving familiar, likable Tex-Mex. But beneath the name Real Maya beats the heart of Mario & Alberto, the longtime Tex-Mex restaurant at LBJ Freeway and Preston Road. Real Maya has the same menu as Mario & Alberto, the same food, the same staff and the same owner.

Call the situation a casualty of the ongoing road construction on LBJ.

"We're the same people, just a different name and different location," says owner Jose Chac. "The construction killed our business, and we got behind on the rent and had to leave that location."

 "We're the same people, just a different name and different location," says owner Jose Chac. "The construction killed our business."

The strange thing is, as part of the arrangement, the landlord wouldn't let them keep their name.

"They say that one of the assets they have is the name," Chac says. "I'm the one who had the rights to the name, but I didn't want any legal problems. So we're now Real Maya instead."

Founded by Mario Leal and named for himself and his son Alberto, Mario & Alberto hummed along for 32 years, serving combination plates, mixed fajitas, shrimp enchiladas and its signature carne asada. They baked their refried beans and used vegetable oil, no animal fat. After 25 years, Leal retired and sold the place to Chac, his loyal longtime manager who'd had a major role in its success.

And then came the renovation of LBJ.

"The business was down more than 50 percent," Chac says. "I went to the landlord a year ago and told them the situation. I started sending them half the rent, and they cashed my checks. They seemed to accept my offer. But they were adding it to my balance. I said, 'I can't do that. The drop in business is not my fault.' But they said, 'It's not our fault.'"

Chac's customers vouched that the construction was to blame.

"The people we used to see once a week, they were only coming once a month," he says. "And I asked them, 'Did we do something?' The answer for many is that they didn't want to deal with the traffic. For the first time, I asked the landlord for help. I said, 'I cannot do enough business to pay the rent now. We don't make enough money anymore.' He went and talked to the partners, but they said no."

The landlord let him out of his contract, with the stipulation that his new restaurant could not be called Mario & Alberto.

So now it is Real Maya, with its house-made chips and slightly chunky salsa, avocado with cilantro and lime, and full bar with margaritas.

"It's the same quality good food, and people are starting to come over," Chac says.

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