By Chelsea Mills, originally published at Behind Your Design
AUTHENTIC FAMILY ATMOSPHERE. A DISH FOR EVERYONE
Tia Helita’s has been a Flint staple since 1970 when the restaurant first opened on Fenton Road in Flint. Growing up on the east side of Flint, in Burton, my family frequently went to both of the locations, the other being on Richfield Road near Western Highway. Some of my favorite dishes from when I was little are still my favorite dishes today. The chips and salsa are still exactly the same today as they were years ago, and I found out they still use the same recipe from when the restaurant first opened. I can even remember when it was in the small white building on Richfield, with parking behind the restaurant and with an entrance through the kitchen…just like if we were going to Grandma’s house. Tia Helita’s has always had that safe, family-welcoming atmosphere.
I had the pleasure of meeting and sitting down with Monica Reed, one of the third generation owners of Tia Helita’s. Monica has been working in the restaurant since she was 13 years old. She told me that “the best thing about a family business is having your family be part of it. Although it can be hard at times, you always know your family has your back.” My friend Tom Hicks joined me for lunch; his 46 year- old, Flint-based company has always enjoyed catered lunches from Tia Helita’s, and the restaurant also hosted their company Christmas party there too.
For those who don’t know, Tia Helitas has a full, authentic Mexican menu, which includes prime T-Bone Steaks, and their famous BBQ Ribs. Many patrons don’t realize that the BBQ sauce is homemade, the recipe including Dos Equis Beer and other special spices to make it sweet yet savory. There is full bar service with amazing margaritas and a full line of domestic and imported beers. Once the lunch rush was over, Monica was able to sit down with us so we could ask her a couple questions about her family business. Some of them included the following:
What is your favorite dish to serve?
“The fajitas, hands down, are one of the most popular dishes we serve because they come with all the sides and include chips and salsa. Another one of my favorites is the Carnita Taco Dinner which [consists of] pork taco, topped with Piico de Gallo and cilantro, and served with rice, beans or famous stew beef, Carne Guisada.”
What is your favorite dish to make?
“I love the fish tacos and the shrimp tacos! It’s funny because when I am talking to a table [of customers,] explaining some of the dishes they have not tried, the guests will listen to me, but they always go back to order their favorites. It’s hard for people to try new things when they have their minds set on one of our favorites. But if they do venture out and try it, they love it, and it usually becomes part of their new favorite list.”
What dish do the customers rave about?
“The Wet Beef Burrito, hands down. It’s made with our Carne Guisada and our guests absolutely love it. We start cooking it every day at 7:30 AM, along with all our food. Everything is made fresh each morning.”
What is the oldest recipe or dish, one which has been served continuously since 1970?
“My grandparents opened the restaurant with the exact same Carne Guisada, Chips and Salsa recipes we still use today. Those definitely hold a special place in our kitchen and in the hearts of our guests.”
What is one thing you’d like people to know about your restaurant?
“[At] our restaurant, we welcome everyone like family. We want to have the same feeling and atmosphere as our grandparents did years ago. Although many of our guests come back for their favorite dishes, we are continuously introducing new items on the menu or in the bar. As a result, some of those new items have become new favorites, such as our seafood burrito and seafood enchilada.
Oh! Another thing I keep meaning to add to the menu is sliced avocado. Our guests know they can order guacamole, but they don’t know they can order sliced avocados, which are an amazing addition to any of their favorite dishes.”
Can you rent out your restaurant for parties?
“Of course! We have two banquet rooms, which seat 35-40 people and also have our large dining area which seats 80 people for big parties. We also have the ability to host fundraisers for different groups. We believe that it is important to give back to the community which supports us… that is one of our core values.”
What is something you’d like people to know about your catering?
“We can deliver the food right to your door or venue. We even have the ability to stay onsite and service the food if you’d like. We also have many guests who come and pick up food for parties they are having, from First Communions, to Super Bowl [ functions] or even a low key Friday Family Game Night.”
“Many of our patrons have become family and that’s what make us happy; we pride ourselves in good Food, Drinks, Family and Friends!” Monica Reed, 3rd Generation Owner of Tia Helitas.