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For the Garza family, winning at the State Fair of Texas means shaking it up with the 'Cha-Cha'

 Denise de la Cruz shows off the Garza Family's latest win at the Big Tex Choice Awards--the Cha-Cha-Chata milkshake.
Therese Powell
Denise de la Cruz shows off the Garza Family's latest win at the Big Tex Choice Awards--the Cha-Cha-Chata milkshake.

The Garza family has a history with the State Fair of Texas that goes back nearly 40 years.

It all started in the mid-'70s when Benilde Garza noticed business at the family’s West Dallas restaurant was down during October. Perplexed, she and her husband Trini asked around and discovered their customers were being wooed away by the fair.

Determined not to lose any more business, the couple decided if the customers weren’t going to come to them, they would go to the customers, and applied for permission to operate a concession booth. It took a few years to get in, but in 1983 the Garza Family introduced fajitas to the State Fair of Texas.

Thirty-nine years later the Garza Family now has three generations and four booths going during the fair. They also boast three Big Tex Choice Awards--the annual foodie prizes given to fair concessionaires who pull out all the stops with savory and sweet creations. This year the family won “Most Creative” for their Cha-Cha-Chata, a horchata milkshake topped with a churro straw, cinnamon galletas de gragega, and deep-fried arroz con leche bites.

We spoke to Benilde and Trini’s daughter, Denise de la Cruz, about the family’s secret to success…and secret ingredients.

What’s your family’s process for entering the Big Tex Choice Awards?

Believe it or not, we start in January. My brother will ask everybody for ideas for the Big Tex Choice Awards. We usually do a savory and a sweet entry. We bring the ideas to a monthly family meeting and then kind of narrow them down. If there's anything that needs to be changed, we go around the table. Somebody might say, "I think we need to add this to it or delete this," and it's always considered. Then we get together and we decide on the name. And there you go. And that's how it happens.

 The Cha-Cha Chata Milkshake won in the Big Tex Choice Awards' "Most Creative" category this year.
Therese Powell
The Cha-Cha Chata Milkshake won in the Big Tex Choice Awards' "Most Creative" category this year.

How do you decide what a winner is? 

The Cha-Cha-Chata Milkshake was not our first idea. It was probably the second or third. When I brought it to the table, my brother said, “What is this? This isn't what we talked about.” And I said, “Taste it.” He tasted it and he said, “This is it. This is what we're entering.”

I know participants can’t submit anything that’s been done before, so where do you find new ideas?  

This year, I Googled what desserts were trending, and it happened to be ice cream. When we did ice cream with our deep-fried arroz con leche a few years ago, I had a difficult time when I had to go and take my items to the different TV stations for tastings. I'm all about appearance, so when my ice cream melted, I was not happy. So, I didn't want to do ice cream.

But then I talked to the Blue Bell representative that we buy from here on the fairgrounds. He told me to go look up Freakshakes on the internet. He said, "No one is doing them but they're amazing." And when I saw them, I said, "I'm gonna put my own spin on a Freakshake.” I wanted the Latin flavor. I'm all about introducing Latin flavors to fairgoers so that they can taste all the magic that we have. 

What's your secret ingredient when you cook?

A secret ingredient can be anything, but I have to say, whatever it is, make it your own. When my nieces ask me how to make rice I always say, “These are the ingredients you need. I'm going to tell you exactly how to cook it and for how long, but I want you to make it your own. Make it your own and something that you can be proud of.”

What’s your favorite State Fair of Texas memory?

My favorite fair memory happened when we must have been two or three years into the fair. The family was setting up the stands--we had two stands then--and my boys, who were young at the time, were giving me a hard time. To help me out, my dad decided to take them for a walk. When he came back with them, he got on to me and said, "Why did the boys not ever know that there was a Midway here?" And I said, "Well, Dad, you just ruined it for me. They don't know there's a Six Flags either!" So that's a story we tell over and over. And they won't forget it.

Last question. Corny dogs, yes or no?

Yes! It’s the first thing I buy!

You can find the Cha-Cha Chata milkshake inside the Tower Building. The State Fair of Texas runs through Sunday, October 22.

In Good Question, we're getting to know movers and shakers in the arts a little bit better with a few quirky and thought-provoking questions. Who should we talk to next? E-mail me at tpowell@kera.org.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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Copyright 2022 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Therese Powell