By Angela Cutrer

El Charro Cocina & Cantina didn’t just happen; instead, it was a culmination of years of planning and an involved, committed family unit that chose Oxford specifically.

The family is now celebrating almost 30 years of Mexican gastronomy in Oxford, and they remain thankful to have been able to provide years of top-notch authentic Mexican flavors, spices and atmosphere at both the family’s restaurants, El Charro and Casa Mexicana.

It all started back in the early 1990s, when Ramiro Munoz Aguirre and his wife Juana worked in Atlanta and Nashville, learning the restaurant business back to front and front to back. Aguirre worked his way up from server to cook to manager as he became more experienced and accomplished in the business. He created his own system of doing things because that system seemed to work well.

Then the time came for the family to branch out into their own restaurant business, which they knew would be a full family engagement.

It was in the mid-1990s when the family found Oxford during location scouting. “They stumbled across Oxford and now it’s 29 years later,” said the couple’s son, also named Ramiro, who helps run the family’s El Charro restaurant. There is not a day that a member of the family is not in El Charro or the original restaurant, Casa Mexicana, or at least just a phone call away.

Originally, the family opened El Charro at the intersection of Jackson and Hathorn in a small building, where the father Ramiro was there from open to close. They quickly outgrew the location in a matter of months, so, from there, they moved to 1908 W. Jackson down the hill.

Two years ago they reintroduced El Charro at its new location at the Oxford Commons and family members each have a part in its success.

“I was first working at Casa Mexicana for about six years,” son Ramiro said. “We decided to move across town to the new area where the town was growing. There is the new high school, the neighborhoods, the theater – the town is growing and expanding like crazy.”

Ramiro said that though the children of the family now run most of the restaurants’ activities, that doesn’t mean mom and dad aren’t still involved. “They are the ‘dynamic duo,” he said. “My father does his own thing now, but he still comes into the restaurants to check to make sure everyone is following his recipes. He has to make sure he sees how things are going to ensure everyone is making the food as he wants it made. He keeps an eye on everything so that everything is consistent with our products.

“Our mother Juana helps with other things, like ensuring everything is tidy and the dining room looks as it needs to look. She’s very particular about making sure everything is right and correct.”

The younger family members do not mind these comments and inspections. “We are lucky we had parents to always guide us,” young Ramiro explained. “They taught us how to work the business.”

But it wasn’t always work and no play. “They would tell us stories about interactions with customers and then later on the customers would come in and tell us the same exact stories!” said young Ramiro with a laugh.

He added that the family is thankful to be involved in a true family business. While Ramiro and Juana still serve as the inspiration, young Ramiro works alongside his sister, Esmeralda Angel, at El Charro, where her husband, Daniel Angel, runs the bar. The eldest daughter, Cristal Munoz, runs Casa Mexicana on Jackson alongside Fernanado Jaimes.

“Our success is from family ties,” young Ramiro said. “It’s hard work, no doubt, but if you follow simple ground rules, you’ll find success. Those rules revolve around respecting each other. We were lucky to have parents who involved us in the business and their opinion is just as important today. We are always really grateful to get advice from them – who better for us to listen to?”

And to make things even better, by next year Oxford customers will have a new west-side Casa Mexicana restaurant building to complement the east side El Charro restaurant that opened about two years ago.

“We will eventually close the Casa Americana on Jackson to move into our new building in the west side of town,” Ramiro said. “We have the renderings and right now we are working on beginning the ground work. So, it’s just at the very beginning stage.

“However, Casa Americana on Jackson will remain open until it’s time for the move. That building has served its purpose, but we need more parking and an updated building to remain competitive. We have no plans to close it until the move.”

Ramiro said his family’s original restaurant was the first Mexican eatery in Oxford and they want to remain a top place to serve authentic Mexican cuisine. “We will continue to offer the same food we do at both restaurants,” he said. “We’ll also continue the same level of experience and atmosphere our customers have enjoyed through the years. We want to continue to be a Mexican restaurant favorite here in Oxford.”

Young Ramiro said his family is grateful for the way Oxford has supported their businesses. “We are blessed to be in this community,” he said. “We very much appreciate this community and our customers. We have loved experiencing Oxford and we now have the two-year anniversary with the new restaurant [El Charro], so we now have old ties to Oxford, as well as new ones.“Our family chose to live here and now we have nearly 30 years in Oxford! We love it and we all plan to stay here, God willing.”