Mama Margie is a true San Antonio woman full of recipes, history and warmth

sBack in 1993, the smiling face of cartoon Mama Margie warmly welcomed San Antonio looking for a quick bite to start their day or the after-hours grumpy crowds in need of comfort food to end the night. The 89-cent bean and cheese signs in the early 2000s were a “welcome home” sign on Military Drive, and free chips for everyone and a feel of salsa are a token boost from a grandmother who never thought you had enough to eat. Being around the real Mama Margie, real name Margarita Abonce, feels a lot like home too.

Yes, it is real. Cartoons of “Mama Margie” have been a staple of San Antonio icons, inspiring fashion and merchandise, since the 1990s. While the logo looks a lot like Abonce, it falls short of capturing the image of the vibrant 76-year-old sitting in front of me, sparkling and smiling at her best Sunday. She rocks her dangling earrings back and forth, emphasizing her laughter, and there’s plenty as she introduces me to her daughter Claudia Silva and her granddaughter, Jocelyn Silva. Although her outfit is the opposite of the business attire she wears in Logo, her lipstick-rimmed smile matches hers.

“I never leave the house without my lipstick or my perfume,” she told me.

Margarita Aponci still stops by at her local Mama Margie’s home, as visits turn out to be celebs.

Madeleine Mendoza, MySA.com

Made by Mama Margie


aAfter a few seconds of chatting with the local icon, I can see why her maternal nature was the inspiration Mike Stehling drew from his solo concept after his split from Taco Cabana, which he founded with his brother Felix in San Antonio in the 1970s.

Aponci told me that she came to the United States from Allende, Coahuila, Mexico, when she was a few months ashamed of turning 15. She started cooking at the age of 10 to help her mother raise her siblings. Preparing meals for her family – and eventually for the city – to gather around her has been Abonce’s pride ever since. When she arrived in the United States, she shopped for some job opportunities, such as babysitting and working in several restaurants. As a mother, she searched for a job that would allow her to work in the mornings and take a break in time to spend the afternoons with her husband, José Luis Aponse, and their eight children: Teresa A. Carrillo, Jose Luis Aponci Jr., Ángeles A Pina, Miguel Aponci, Carlos Aponse, Romy Aponci, Claudia Silva and Bibiana A Morales.

A friend linked her to the Stehling brothers in the 1970s. The sibling businessmen were about to launch Taco Cabana and were looking for a cook who could create a California-inspired Mexican menu. Aponci told the brothers she didn’t know much about California cooking, but she could make magic for $20. As a step in the hiring process, she cooked a meal for the Stehling family. It was a Mexican dish with enchiladas, crunchy tacos, rice, and beans that got her to the job and cemented her place in San Antonio food history.

On September 21, 1978, Aponse was part of the founding team that opened Taco Cabana in San Pedro and Hildebrand. After nine years, the brothers decided to separate. In that time, Taco Cabana has grown to six or seven locations, Aponci says. She described Mike as a “partner” and “right hand” with whom she had a closer relationship. The pair remain good friends. I also decided to leave Taco Cabana and help Mike Stehling with his new restaurant. Aponsey said she was initially surprised by Mike Stehling’s desire to build his new restaurant concept in her image.

Aponci says he told her “because all the staff are always looking to you for advice.”

She laughs as she remembers the first time she saw the cartoon version of herself surrounded by “Mama” and “Margis” on the sign in the first position at the corner of Zarazamora and SW Military Drive.

Margherita Aponci first helped open Taco Cabana through San Antonio in the 1970s.

Margherita Aponci first helped open Taco Cabana through San Antonio in the 1970s.

Madeleine Mendoza, MySA.com

“I feel so happy that I helped so many people,” she says, crying. “I’m still engaged, I think emotionally, because everyone from there is still calling me.”

After helping the brand move its current Southside location to 7335 Zerzamora Street and add the Wurzbach outpost, Abonce retired at 62. Now 76, she says she’s still around restaurants. We visit Wurzbach Mama Margie’s and while the younger staff don’t realize the original Mama Margie is standing in front of them, some staff stop by to say ‘hello’.

Claudia Silva says the family recently celebrated her birthday in the site’s courtyard. When the staff found out the real Mama Margie was at home, they stopped by her table to meet her. Some asked her to bless their uniforms with her autograph.

“I’m so proud of my mom,” Claudia Silva says. “I always brag about her.”

While Claudia Silva always takes a picture of her mom’s cooking to post on social media, she says Abonce isn’t flashy about being a San Antonio “mama.” Besides, being a motherly city figure ingrained in Abonce, she was never anything to be praised. The three generations get emotional when thinking about the years Abonce spent in the role. As a restaurant leader, she has provided opportunities for countless newcomers to San Antonio who have shared her same journey from Mexico.

Margherita Aponci with her daughter Claudia Silva (left) and granddaughter Jocelyn Silva (right) outside the Mama Margie site in Wurzbach.

Margherita Aponci with her daughter Claudia Silva (left) and granddaughter Jocelyn Silva (right) outside the Mama Margie site in Wurzbach.

Madeleine Mendoza, MySA.com

There is food in the house

at home, family centers around Aponsee. If she’s not playing the lottery with her friends, she’s cooking for her family. Before the pandemic, the total gatherings were 80 people, including 18 of her grandchildren and 15 of her great-grandchildren. Abonce takes care of all the cooking, so all the family has to bring are their appetites and drinks.

Christmas at the Abonce House means adding more seating to the table. The group participates in making chorizo ​​and egg tacos, champorado, and pan dulce to serve to homeless people.

We’re not talking about love languages, but acts of service are clearly how Ebony shows her warmth. She thinks of the food she cooked for her growing siblings, like a trial-and-error recipe for entomatadas. Or the time she spent teaching Silva how to make carne guisada. Or her favorite, tamales over Christmas. She scrutinizes the list of tamales she’s looking to make: beans, jalapenos, chicken, and more. For the record, she doesn’t approve of ketchup on tamales.

“I love cooking, and I love it,” she says.

Felix Stehling, owner of Taco Cabana, and Margie Abonce, kitchen manager of the restaurant chain in a photo dated April 29, 1986. Stehling, who ran the chain with several of his siblings, later announced it and was diluted in 1994. Abonce went on to work with several of Stehling's siblings At Mama Margie's, a restaurant in two locations named after her.  file image.
Felix Stehling, owner of Taco Cabana, and Margie Abonce, kitchen manager of the restaurant chain in a photo dated April 29, 1986. Stehling, who ran the chain with several of his siblings, later announced it and was diluted in 1994. Abonce went on to work with several of Stehling’s siblings At Mama Margie’s, a restaurant in two locations named after her. file image.SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS FILE PH

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