Food + Culture

Diego Galicia and a Boxcar Called Mixtli

Diego Galicia is partner and co-chef with Rico Torres in Mixtli, a 12-seat restaurant that features tasting menus focused on rescuing, preserving, and promoting regional Mexican cuisine. Mixtli, operating for the last seven years in a remodeled blue railroad boxcar in San Antonio, Texas, closed at the end of September and will move to a larger space nearby in late November.

Chefs Rico Torres (L) and Diego Galicia (R) outside the Mixtli boxcar. | Courtesy of: StarChefs

Q. What led to your decision to open Mixtli seven years ago with a ticket-only reservation system?

We understood that the honesty-based reservation system the industry had been using for years was not only flawed but also completely broken. With only 12 seats, if guests ignored the implicit trust that came with making a reservation and didn’t show, we were screwed. We opened up with $15,000 of our own money, had no investors, and wanted to reduce our risk in every possible way. So, we created our own manual pay-first ticketing system for reservations.

Q. How well did your system work?

To be honest, we had a fair number of mistakes keeping track of everything manually. You know, six-tops walking in with paid reservations and no room for them because we screwed up—not a good feeling. We sent them to other restaurants and paid for their dinners as a way of apology. We averaged 6–7 screw-ups a year until we switched to the Tock system over two years ago. It’s a great system—no more screw-ups—and it’s made our lives so much easier.

Q. What are the pros of using a ticket system?

The financial freedom that it creates—even with just the six seats we are allowed right now. If we’ve sold out September, then we have the money in the bank to cover that month’s payroll and health insurance for our employees. We know what’s left to pay rent, all of our vendors, and our salaries. There is no guesswork, and almost nothing is left in our walk-in at the end of every Saturday service; we’re not throwing anything in the garbage.

Q. What are the cons of using a ticket system?

For us, there aren’t any cons. But we do have to be extremely organized and honest. It’s not really our money until the guest shows up—that kind of disciplined thinking is critical. Otherwise, I think it could be easy to get in trouble.

Small, chef-driven restaurants are the future.

Diego Galicia

Q. How is the new Mixtli going to be different from your original boxcar space?

We will have a liquor license for the first time, so we’ll have a bar with lounge seats that will be first come, first served. And we’ll have a bar snack menu and a cocktail list featuring tequila and mezcal. Ticketed guests will be able to purchase wine and cocktail pairings to go with the menu—and we’ll be bigger. We’re going from 12 to 38 seats and five to 15 employees but will retain our same $115 per person price for 10–12 courses. We’re excited; this move has been in the works for the last four years.

Mixtli’s prawns, citrus, with a guava aguachile | Courtesy of: StarChefs
Mixtli’s lemon sorbet | Courtesy of: StarChefs

Q. Any plans for the boxcar once Mixtli moves?

Definitely! We’re reopening it as Kumo. Still 12 seats, still a ticketed reservation, but it is going to be a fun and more casual contemporary Mexican omakase. BYOB and $85 for nine courses when we open later this fall.

Q. What advice do you have for young chefs who want to open their own joints?

Small, chef-driven restaurants are the future. Concepts that can be self-financed with no investors—that give the operator the power and freedom to take less risk, better care of their staff, and be open only five dinners a week. We’ve learned that there is tremendous security in being small and relying on a ticketed reservation system to guarantee cash flow. It was one of the best business decisions we’ve ever made.

Blueprint contributor and acclaimed food writer Michael Bonadies

Michael Bonadies is president of international hospitality firm Bonadies Hospitality, LLC. An accomplished entrepreneur and James Beard journalism award winner, Michael is the author of Sip by Sip: An Insider’s Guide to Learning All About Wine.