Food, Family, and Orange Dip. The History of Old Mexican Inn Restaurant

Flores family shares their lifetime of experiences

By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette

Walking into the Flores household, it’s impossible to not feel like part of the family. Conducting an interview with Old Mexican Inn owner Julius Flores, his wife Mary, daughter Danica, and son Jeff became an exercise in work, play, and laughter in order to share the history of Corsicana’s first in-town Mexican food restaurant, a well-known and beloved icon since 1941 that has continued to serve the community for nearly 80 years.

Julius Sr. and Caroline Flores opened Old Mexican Inn (known as “OMI” to locals and regulars). Both longtime Corsicana residents, the couple married in 1934, and originally worked for the Acker family at Corsicana Cleaners & Laundry. In the 1930s, Julius Sr. had also worked as a waiter for the Lamont Cafe, located at 210 S. Beaton Street. Julius Sr. eventually became the proprietor of the cafe.

Early Lamont Cafe advertisement – Courtesy photo

Caroline (known as “Little Mama”), had a dream of opening a Mexican restaurant, and together with Julius Sr., and a friend named Mr. Ferguson, who loaned them $500. The first iteration of the Mexican Inn began in 1940, a small six to seven table location behind the Commercial Hotel that lasted only six months. The demand for the food was so high with wait times running for hours, they recognized the immediate need for a larger location.

Caroline Flores – Courtesy photo

Mexican Inn moved to the first floor of the Southern Hotel at S. Beaton Street and Seventh Avenue by Allen Park. This location ran from 1941 to 1953.

By 1948, the family needed more space to keep up with their hungry customers’ demands. Caroline bought the old Corsican Restaurant located off of State Highway 75 South. The restaurant was named The Mexican Inn No. 2, and was known as the most exclusive restaurant between Dallas and Houston. While as popular as its predecessor, faulty wiring burned the secondary location to the ground in 1949. The location was never rebuilt.

Julius Sr. and Caroline – Courtesy photo

The location moved to 107 S. Beaton Street in 1953. M. Evans owned the building, and the Flores family leased it from him. The building was used from 1953 to 1962.

“Dad and Mom both had been in the restaurant business since ’41,” Julius said. “My Dad, he was offered to go to South America to open a restaurant for Standard Oil Company, and he did in Maracaibo, Venezuela.”

Julius Sr. was there from 1962 to 1964, with a group of other Corsicana residents. By the end of his time there, South America was in the midst of big revolution, and Venezuela was active. By 1964, Julius was graduating high school.

Julius Sr. was getting ready to return to Corsicana to open a new restaurant location. Wanting to expand the business further, The Mexican Inn readied its plans to take on its now current location at 2407 W. Seventh Avenue, the former location of Scotch Burger #3. When signing the contract for the new location, however, Julius Sr. had to agree to a competition clause that he would not go back into business in the Corsicana area for two years.

During the wait time, Julius Sr. worked with J. T. Magness at a restaurant called El Tejano, across from Tiger Field. Magness had been in the trucking business in Corsicana, and wanted to try his hand in the restaurant business.

Once the contract expired, The Mexican Inn was able to open for business again in 1965.

Over the years, the Flores family grew, and Julius Sr. and Caroline raised their children around the business. Julius and his wife took over the business during the summer of 1969. In May of 1971, Julius Sr. passed away, and the restaurant changed its name to Old Mexican Inn Restaurant shortly after.

Old Mexican Inn through the 1970s and 1980s. – Courtesy photos

Julius recalled the name change with a sense of humor that has become customary during interviews with him.

“I would guess that it was ’71, ’72 when we changed it,” Julius smiled. “And we did it legally.”

At its now permanent location, the family has continued to innovate the restaurant, growing the present-day location through building expansions.

When Old Mexican Inn started selling margaritas, they promoted the drinks as “Frosties,” sold for a dollar a piece. At the time, however, selling alcohol could not be advertised outside, and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission blocked the signage in addition to the city passing an ordinance to prevent further outdoor promotions.

On Sept. 15, 1985, Old Mexican Inn became the first public restaurant in Corsicana to obtain a liquor license, and the first eating establishment to serve liquor in Navarro County since 1936. Old Mexican Inn’s first day of serving alcoholic drinks on Dec. 26, 1985.

Construction began to expand a new bar area with plans to open in February of 1986. With the addition of the bar, the restaurant’s name expanded as well, becoming Old Mexican Inn Restaurant & Cantina. While the bar has been a popular feature for the restaurant, it initially met some resistance from the local church community.

Old Mexican Inn met every spacing and distance requirement right down to the inch, and the town learned to accept the changes. The diners also learned about what fajitas were, as Old Mexican Inn introduced the popular dish to Corsicana around 1984.

These days, Julius runs the business with two of his children, including daughter, Danica, son, Jeff, and manager Juan Ramirez. The restaurant employs 48 employees, many of which are considered extended family.

“You take care of your employees, they’ll take care of you,” Julius said.

In February of 2010, Caroline passed away at the age of 103, long having realized her restaurant dream and leaving a permanent legacy in Corsicana.

Hearing the stories about the restaurant over the years, from driving long-time employee Streetman Johnson home, to accidentally leaving the bank deposit back on top of Julius’ truck, the storytelling is a team effort between the family, part historical retellings, part memories of an older era of Corsicana, and often mixed with a lot of humor and side tangents that are no less fascinating to hear. Julius’ enchilada choices are… a story perhaps best told by him.

When COVID-19 hit the community in March of 2020, the restaurant changed their serving model to curbside and pick-up orders for customers. While the restaurant is open once again, the family kept the new changes to serve more customers.

Perhaps the restaurant’s most surprising signature item is not one of its many Mexican platters, but a sauce known to any Corsicana local: “Orange Dip.”

Developed in 1941 by Julius’ father, and taking him three years to perfect, the original name of the sauce is “Mexican Inn Special Salad Dressing.” Caroline referred to it as “Liquid Gold.” The secret family recipe (so secret that Julius joked about getting his gun when I took an attempt at guessing the ingredients) has been a staple at the restaurant ever since.

These days, Jeff keeps the recipe in his head, and has made the dip for the last three years.

“Remind me to increase his insurance,” Julius said, looking over to Mary.

More than 64 quarts of Orange Dip are made at a time, going through twelve to fifteen 40 gallon buckets a week. The sauce is a favorite amongst customers, who use it as an appetizer for dipping their tortilla chips or adding to their favorite dishes. Pints of orange dip and their signature salsa can be taken home by people needing to bring the OMI experience home.

“Our Mexican food is homemade,” Julius said of the family created recipes. The family rolls an average of 800 to 1,000 enchiladas a day, the guacamole and pico de gallo is handmade every day. The chips are also fried from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day.

The tortillas, however, are the result of a partnership with Rudy’s Tortillas since 1971, the largest tortilla distributor and manufacturer in the United States, based out of Dallas. Old Mexican Inn has been one of their biggest customers.

“We’re heading towards using 900,000 tortillas a month,” Julius said.

With the 80th anniversary celebration set for next year, the Flores family is already preparing for their next milestone. In the meantime, they’re having fun with the moments they have serving Corsicana’s hungry diners.

“We’re real proud of it,” Julius said of the restaurant, before adding with a smile: “Hopefully we’ll still be around for a few more years.”

The family laughed. They have no plans to be anywhere else.

The Flores Family, L to R: Danica, Mary, Jeff. Seated: Julius – Photo by Guy Chapman

EDITOR’S NOTE: Julius recalled his parent’s story, while Danica (now Woolley, having married Jimmy Woolley) provided a variety of vintage photos from both the family’s and restaurant’s history. Mary and Jeff shared many of the incidental details of the various histories. They have another daughter, Carrie Heng, who they are hoping will one day join the family business.

Categories: Community, Food