VAN HORN, Texas: Nestled in between Odessa and El Paso on I-10 is the town of Van Horn, whose lights can be seen for miles , surrounded by glass mountains and hundreds of miles of desert.
Right on the main drag lies a little oasis…Chuy’s…a Tex-Mex restaurant opened in 1959 by Jesus “Chuy” Uranga a full 23 years before the chain of the same name opened in Austin and has been an institution ever since.
“It’s a staple to the community,” Chuy’s son and current owner, Paul Uranga, said. “A lot of people that are there still or no longer there or grew up there, a lot of those people worked there and it was the first job they got.”
Uranga could’ve never predicted that one Monday night in 1987, the famous “Madden Cruiser” a tour bus used by former Super Bowl winning head coach turned CBS broadcaster John Madden to travel the country to combat his fear of flying, would pull up in his parking lot.
Desperate to watch Monday Night Football, Madden had just faced what he would consider a major issue…he lost reception.
“This was before satellite tv and so he told his bus driver ‘there’s some lights up there, let’s find some place with a tv.’ he told his bus driver to pull over and says ‘hey, there’s a place that says tv room,'” Paul Uranga said.
Chuy himself couldn’t quite believe it.
“My dad said he couldn’t believe it and was saying ‘is that who I think it is?’ and my dad said ‘are you John Madden?’ and the guy said ‘yes, I am.'”
Madden loved the food and the atmosphere, and when his dad asked him to pick up a newspaper in El Paso where the story would be, Paul Uranga couldn’t believe it either.
“I drive up and it’s up there in the front of the El Paso times and it’s on the front page in the headlines and I was like ‘oh my gosh, I didn’t think it would be up at the front!”
After 1987, Madden would visit Chuy’s at least once, more likely twice a year, so Jesus had to make him feel at home, giving him his own table and a chair with his name on it.
“He would sit down and somebody would come talk to him and he would say ‘come pull up a seat, let’s talk.'”
Madden let his friends know about Chuy’s too and soon after the likes of Tom Hanks, Selena, and Johnny Cash among countless other celebrities made their way to Van Horn.
Madden made Chuy’s an annual stop every year for the next two decades and the employees began to figure out for themselves when he would stop by.
“We’d kind of figure it out because we’d say ‘if he’s broadcasting in Dallas and then his next game was going to be in Phoenix, we’d see that the game was at 3:00 or whatever and with him driving, he’ll be here at a certain time.”
The legendary coach never forgot about the place or the family…as was evident after Jesus died in a car crash in 2010…and Madden called Uranga’s widow to give his condolences.
Just as the family embraced Madden, he embraced them right back.
“To me, that means that he held us like family, and he cared.”