Buenos Aires Café owners celebrate 10 years of bringing ‘a piece of home’ with authentic Argentine cuisine, flavors and culture to the Austin area
AUSTIN, TEXAS — Chef Reina Morris is the founding chef and co-owner of Buenos Aires Café in East Austin and Bee Cave. She opened the original Buenos Aires Café restaurant on South First Street in November 2005, bringing the tastes and flavors of Argentina to Central Texas.
Long before she moved to the Lone Star State, Reina’s culinary pursuit started when she was a little girl helping her mother prepare food in Argentina. From her mother’s kitchen to her own, Reina continued her culinary studies, learning new cooking techniques at Instituto Gastronómico Argentino.
“I remember how happy I was cooking with my mom,” said Reina, who left her native country for Austin in 1997 with her Texan-husband Troy and their children, Troy and Paola. “I remember playing with the dough and making empanadas. For me, it’s important to be connected to the ingredients. And I remember Paola in the kitchen with me. Those were happy times. I remember those smells and the taste of the food.”
To further her culinary skills in the United States, Reina attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts (formerly Texas Culinary Academy) in Austin, where she graduated with honors and now serves on the school’s board of directors.
At the time, Reina considered opening a small cafe after receiving compliments about the baked goods she made for friends’ events and parties. However, she was told by culinary professionals that restaurants were a man’s game and not suited for women, especially ones who didn’t have experience operating a restaurant.
Instead of relinquishing her dream, Reina became a maverick, bringing the food and tastes from Argentina to the residents of Austin. With love and support from her husband, she opened her first restaurant in 2005 on South First Street in Austin, initially serving pastries and empanadas before expanding the menu with other Argentine cuisine.
In a less than a decade in Texas, Reina went from being a stay-at-home mother to becoming a restaurateur and culinary force in Austin’s dining scene.
“I was abroad when my mom started the restaurant,” said Reina’s daughter, Paola MG Smith, who co-owns the Bueno Aires Café on the East Side. “Her idea came from wanting to have a piece of home here in Austin. We had several phone conversations during the opening of our South First cafe. She kept wanting to open, but things kept happening like the oven breaking, refrigerator not cooling and the bathroom sink flooding.”
A few days later, mother and daughter spoke again. MG Smith said: “I asked her, ‘When are you opening now?’ And she said, ‘Oh, I opened yesterday.’ I was surprised. She said, ‘Everything was working so I went outside and changed the sign from ‘opening soon’ to ‘now open.’ No grand opening. Nothing. She was ready to serve people and cook.”
Looking back on the early days of the restaurant, Reina said the original Buenos Aires Café location on South First Street wasn’t initially a successful venture. However, she persevered while adding new menu selections such as organic coffee and salads. And despite a slow start, her restaurant quickly became a popular foodie destination in Austin’s dining scene.
In 2009, Reina asked her daughter to help her with the daily operations of Buenos Aires Café in East Austin. The mother-daughter team closed the original location in South Austin and now operates Buenos Aires Café Este in East Austin and another location at the Hill Country Galleria in Bee Cave, which opened in 2010.
Just as she learned about cooking from her mother and other culinary instructors, Reina is now giving back to the Austin community by offering culinary arts students an opportunity to train at Buenos Aires Café and learn about the art of cooking and operating restaurants like hers.
Now 12 years after the opening of the original location, Buenos Aires Café continues to thrive because of Chef Reina and her daughter’s deep love of Argentine food, their regular customers and their dedicated restaurant employees, many of whom have worked with the mother-daughter team for years.
“It’s a family,” Reina said recently. “It’s all of the people who are working with me. They care as much as I do. I’m very fortunate to have people like that.”
About Buenos Aires Café
Buenos Aires Café
1201 E. Sixth St.
13500 Galleria Circle
Hill Country Galleria
Bee Cave, Texas
Buenos Aires Café at the Hill Country Galleria in Bee Cave is open Monday through Sunday, while Buenos Aires Café Este in East Austin is open Monday through Saturday. Visit BuenosAiresCafe.com for additional information.