Local Landmark

Nuevo Café: out-of-the-box and delicious

By: Sarah Tindall // Photos by: Paul Marshall

 

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For Teri Zepeda, the appreciation for delicious things began as a child. She helped her father and grandfather, who were beekeepers, take their bees south to the Rio Grande Valley for the winter so they could get their pollen from the citrus orchards here and then pack them up for summers in Minnesota, enjoying the flora there in order to make the most delicious honey.

As a teenager in the Valley, she worked in food service at the mall and enjoyed it so much that she says she felt like it couldn’t be a real job because she was just having too much fun.

She graduated from college with a degree in social work and began working in hospice care as a social worker before she and her husband, Zee Zepeda, moved to Austin. There, he worked in media while she pursued several careers, one of which was as an Allstate insurance agent, before an opportunity arose for Zee in the Corpus Christi market working for Clear Channel Communications. “We decided we’d come down here for two years, then go back to Austin. That was 11 years ago,” Teri laughs.

Since she didn’t expect to be in the Coastal Bend long, Teri was hesitant about going back into social work, as it takes several years to build up the network of contacts that she would have needed, so Zee suggested that instead she open up a café, as she loved to cook and enjoyed her time in food service so much. She wasn’t impressed with the idea. “I told him no, absolutely not. I have a degree; I’m not opening a café,” she says. But Zee was persistent and asked her to check out a location he had found that would be perfect.

“He came home one day and said, ‘I found this quaint place. You’ll love it; there’s just 10 tables. Let’s just go look,’” she explains. It was in the now defunct Hoover Hotel on Chaparral Street, and when Zee took her to see it, Teri knew she was ready to take the plunge.

“I knew it just needed some vision, just needed some paint,” Teri says. “I thought that for two years, it would be something fun to do. It was Zee’s idea for my mom to come up from Uvalde to help us get it up and running, because she had a tea room there, and it was also his idea to hang original art on the walls of the café. It had never been done here before, and we had to beg the artists to let us do it at first, but once we started it up, it caught on, and both our customers and the artists loved the local flair it gave the place. We named it Nuevo Café because we were doing something entirely new: bringing in the art, a fresh and ever-changing menu that was different than anything else here, including the poblano soup, which no one here had ever served before.”

The couple signed a two-year lease, spent several months renovating the space, and were open about a month when the owners of the building announced that they were losing the building and they’d have to find a new location.

Zee happened to drive through Six Points one day and spotted the location at 1124 Ayers. It was before the rejuvenation of the area had occurred, so Teri had trepidations until she walked into the space and realized its potential.

“We hadn’t been here long enough, so I didn’t even know the history of this building and area,” Teri says. “Everything was lavender and hideous, but I fell in love with the building. We called the leasing agent, who told us the landlady wasn’t willing to lease to anybody but us because she had gone to eat at the café in the Hoover and loved the food. The rest is history.”

When their two years were up, the couple reevaluated their situation and decided to stay in Corpus Christi because of Nuevo. “The café had taken on its own life, and it was exciting to be a part of it,” she says. “Our slogan is ‘Food, Art, Life.’ We believe food sustains you and art contributes to the beauty of life.

“The customers are my favorite part of what we do here. When we had just moved here, we didn’t know anyone, but our customers were the nicest people we had ever met. Because we were serving new and different things, we have always given samples to them so they can try things before they order. This has created customers who are not afraid to try new things, and they fall in love with menu items they never would have tried otherwise. It’s given us the creative freedom to constantly offer new menu items as a result, which makes it fun to come to work every day.”

Nuevo Café is now a local landmark, with menu items that customers love like the cranberry pecan chicken salad, bread pudding, the club sandwich and homemade pimento cheese, as well as the iconic poblano soup. The newest addition is the 517, a BLT with fried green tomatoes and mozzarella cheese that is out-of-the-box and delicious – the hallmark of a Nuevo Café menu item.

The café has come to be more than just a great place for lunch. The revitalization of the Six Points area was possible because the café was an anchor that brought locals back to rediscover its potential. On any given day, the customers at Teri’s tables are a cross-section of local life, all enjoying the “Food, Art, Life” culture she has so carefully crafted here – the café culture at its best.

 

For more information about Nuevo Café, visit the Facebook page, or stop by and try the poblano soup yourself at 1124 Ayers. Call 361-904-0425 for directions or hours of operation.

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