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2023 Year in Review: Coffee, Restaurants, and More Places to Shop
(This article was written by Lisa Campos and appeared in the December issue of the Explore Harlingen Magazine . Updates since the original article was written have been included.) 2023 was a big year for new businesses opening in Harlingen. Since January, I have been tracking and sharing new business openings on my Explore Harlingen community page on Facebook. Although the majority of what I tracked were restaurants, Harlingen did see a few retailers open locations this year, with national chain, Academy Sports and Outdoors, as one of the biggest and most exciting store openings in recent Harlingen history. Their newly constructed location at 2831 W. Expressway 83 in the Harlingen Corners shopping center (next to Five Below), celebrated its grand opening weekend November 17-19, 2023, with its soft opening for friends and family starting on November 12, 5-9 pm. Other new retailers that came to Harlingen this year included Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, a national discount closeout retailer, which opened on January 25 at Valle Vista Mall. Seasonal national store, Spirit Halloween, opened on August 12 at its temporary location at 1106 S. Expressway 83 and closed after Halloween. Several coffee shops opened in Harlingen this year, giving some healthy competition to Starbucks. Two national chains, Dutch Bros Coffee, which opened on June 30, and Scooter’s Coffee, which opened on August 13, brought their well-known offerings to Harlingen. Dutch Bros demolished the building at 1601 W. Harrison to create their brand-new drive thru only shop, while Scooter's Coffee constructed a new building for their drive-thru only shop at 2304 S. 77 Sunshine Strip. Additionally, several small coffee shops opened this year including: 4 Dogs Roasting, which offers coffee and tea accessories and gifts, opened on February 9 at 108 W. Jackson. Sovereign Coffee, of Brownsville, opened its second Rio Grande Valley (RGV) location in Harlingen on March 2 at 1733 S. 77 Sunshine Strip. NAME UPDATE: Cafe 406 (formerly Sparrows Sip & Thrift), a coffee shop featuring Erika's Gourmet Cookies, opened in mid-August at 406 E. Harrison. Tora Coffee & Tea, of Brownsville, opened its second location in Harlingen on September 29 at 620 W. Van Buren Ave. In addition to coffee, Harlingen added several places for its residents to eat this year, including: Ricardo's Restaurant, which has several locations throughout the RGV, opened on March 13 at 3201 S. Expressway 83, Unit C. Jersey Mike's Subs, a national submarine sandwich shop, opened on March 22 at 2217 W. Lincoln. Brady's Grill, a locally owned restaurant from La Feria, moved to Harlingen on May 6 at 610 Lewis Lane (however, they have since moved to San Antonio). Mariscos Tulum, a Mexican seafood restaurant, opened on June 13 at 102 N. 77 Sunshine Strip. Papas & Papas, a restaurant featuring build-your-own potatoes and potato tacos, opened on August 9 at 6704 W. Expressway 83, Suite D108. Main Street Boutique & Bistro moved from San Benito to Harlingen on August 31 inside the El Mercado shopping center at 712 N. 77 Sunshine Strip, Suite 6. Wings and Rings, a national wing restaurant and bar, opened on September 25 at 6710 W Expressway 77/83. Harlingen’s first gourmet donut shop, Sugarz Gourmet Donuts, located at 224 E. Jackson in downtown Harlingen, held its soft opening on November 18. The Moon Rock, Harlingen’s food truck park at 1811 W. Jefferson Ave., saw the arrival of two new trucks this year: a gourmet sandwich truck, Hatter's Sammiches, which opened on August 16, and Teddy's Barbecue of Weslaco, which launched its Harlingen food truck on August 25. UPDATE: Hatter's Sammiches relocated in December to the parking lot of Broken Tap on Ed Carey Drive. A new local bar also opened in Harlingen this year. DRINK UP is a woman-owned bar that serves specialty cocktails, beer, and snacks. It is located at 1226 Morgan Blvd., in the former Feldman’s space. The opening of Aguilar's Meat Market on October 5 was highly anticipated, as it had been in the works for close to three years. This market boasts “the freshest meat in the Valley,” and sells fresh produce, groceries, barbecue supplies, and more. It is located at 4226 S. Expressway 83. Stefano’s Brooklyn Pizza, which burned down in December 2021, has spent the past two years rebuilding their location at 4201 W. Business 83. Their highly awaited reopening is expected to occur before the end of 2023. Our neighbors in Combes and Primera also saw some new businesses, including a Love’s Country Store with a Godfather’s Pizza inside, which opened on April 24 in Combes and a new Dollar Tree at Stuart Place and Wilson, which opened on April 29 for Primera residents. Additional businesses are in the process of coming to Harlingen, possibly in 2024, including: Mr. Gatti’s, which closed because of the pandemic, included Harlingen as an upcoming location on their website. Address and estimated opening date are yet to be announced. A simulated indoor golf course and bar called The Deep End at 8311 Business 83, is in the construction phase. Cajun restaurant and bar, Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux (near Bass Pro in the Cameron Crossing shopping center), is preparing for groundbreaking. Black Bear Diner, a homestyle and old-fashioned comfort food café, is coming to 6706 W. Expressway 83. Murdoch’s Ranch & Home Supply will occupy the space formerly occupied by Dillard’s department store at Valle Vista Mall. UPDATE: Matt's Cash and Carry, broke ground on December 15 for its newest location in Harlingen, at 2650 N. Expresway 77 I will continue to track these new businesses and others as they are announced, on my Facebook page, www.facebook.com/ExploreHarlingen .
A Four-in-One at Chyann’s
(This article was written by Steven Hughes and edited by Lisa Campos and appeared in the January issue of Explore Harlingen Magazine .) Chyann’s Specialty Café, located in downtown Harlingen, is Harlingen’s first mother and daughter owned café. Chyann’s reflects their many hats, with the cafe, event center, catering services, and boutique store all in one place. “We’re unique,” Josie Olivares, co-owner, said over the phone. “We’re not just the one hat.” Olivares and Kendra Hernandez, her daughter and co-owner who created the menu, developed a space where guests could enjoy waffles decorated with fresh fruit and powdered sugar and also buy a gift. “It warms me because every time I walk by a table, they say it’s good food, or I see them taking a photo of it. It warms my body just knowing people enjoy what we do,” Hernandez said over the phone. “I love it whenever kids call us the piggy place (due to our pig-themed décor). That’s our nickname.” Although the two Harlingen natives didn’t have food experience leading up to opening the cafe, they opened their doors as the coronavirus’ grasp on the world slowly weakened in 2021. Hernandez, only 15 years old at the time, took customers’ orders while in high school Zoom lectures. Meanwhile, her mother was in the kitchen making home-cooked meals. Their menu consists of breakfast, lunch, weekend brunch, sweets, salads, and coffee. Customer favorites include their meatloaf and stuffed chicken. They are also well known for their beautiful charcuterie boards. As the team at Chyann’s Specialty Cafe grew, it garnered a fan base that often asks for their services in and outside their building from Weslaco to Brownsville. Chyann’s Specialty Cafe offers space for small events like birthday parties, baby and bridal showers, Friendsgiving dinners, and more. They provided catering services for approximately 450 events in 2023. For more information, visit them at 110 E. Jackson Street in Harlingen or call them at 956-496-2754. They are open Wednesday through Friday, 8 am to 3 pm, and Saturday and Sunday, 9 am to 1 pm.
Birders Flock to Harlingen Each November
(This article was written by Lisa Campos and appeared in the Explore Harlingen Magazine , November issue .) The 30th Annual Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival (RGVBF) is a five-day festival that celebrates birding in Harlingen. The Harlingen Convention Center hosts the RGVBF, a non-profit festival, which begins on November 8, 2023, and runs through November 12, 2023. The RGVBF is run by more than 100 volunteers, highlights more than 60 vendors, and brings in approximately $3 million to the local economy annually. “I think a lot of people who live here don’t even realize that we have the second largest bird festival in the entire country right here in Harlingen. The Rio Grande Valley (RGV) is one of the top birding destinations in all of North America. Our festival is an avenue for hundreds of birders from out of state, as well as locals from the RGV, to enjoy and learn about the birds here. We’re always expanding things for our RGV locals to take advantage of, including trips to new places that birders aren’t always allowed, a new fancy Legends of Conservation Gala, and loads of family fun, from our art shows and contests to the live ‘birds of prey’ shows where you can interact with some amazing birds from just feet away,” stated Justin LeClaire, Field Trip Chair of the RGVBF. More than 500 participants from all over the world flock to Harlingen to attend the RGVBF for a chance to see millions of migratory and resident birds. RGVBF activities include the Birder’s Bazaar tradeshow, keynote speakers, workshops, and more than 100 field trips by bus, van, or boat. Field trips are held throughout the RGV, including the following locations: Cactus Creek Ranch in Rio Hondo, TX Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco, TX Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Los Fresnos, TX National Butterfly Center in Mission, TX Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen, TX Resaca de la Palma State Park in Brownsville, TX Sabal Palm Sanctuary in Brownsville, TX Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Alamo, TX South Padre Island Bird and Nature Center in South Padre Island, TX And dozens more My daughter and I attended the RGVBF for the first time last year in 2022. We were blown away by the size of the festival, number of attendees, and quality of the programming. We took the Parrot Palooza evening field trip and found some red-crowned parrots and green parakeets here in Harlingen. I also took the Masterclass Birding tour led by Jon Dunn, field guide author, at the Frontera Audubon in Weslaco, TX. Registration is $50 for the full event, or you may purchase an individual pass for $10 per day for Saturday, November 11, 2023 or Sunday, November 12, 2023. Attendees must be registered to sign up for field trips, workshops, keynote speakers, or seminars, which are priced separately. Visitors who want to attend the tradeshow or free family/children’s activities such as the Birds of Prey Flight Show or Children’s Nature Nook, do not need to register. The festival team is a nonprofit group, with nearly all its supporters being volunteers. More help is always needed to keep the 2nd biggest bird festival in the United States running well. RGVBF has a variety of potential ways to help in either the planning or execution phases of the festival, including tech work, children’s art, hospitality/housekeeping, and many others. Volunteers are given free access to many festival events! For questions about how you can help or sign up to be a volunteer, please email Sylvia at email@example.com . The RGVBF starts on Wednesday, November 8, 2023, and ends on Sunday, November 12, 2023. Most of the events (aside from the field trips) occur at the Harlingen Convention Center located at 701 Harlingen Heights Drive in Harlingen. For more information, you can contact Justin LeClaire, RGVBF Field Trip Chair, at firstname.lastname@example.org . Or you can visit their website, www.rgvbf.org .
Children’s Bereavement Center of the RGV: A Guiding Light Through Grief
(This article was written by Beth Marie Cantu and appeared in the January issue of Explore Harlingen Magazine .) In the close-knit community of the Rio Grande Valley (RGV), a compassionate non-profit organization shines as a ray of hope for those facing the difficult path of grief. Nestled near the Valley Baptist Medical Center, the Children's Bereavement Center (CBC) stands as a haven for both adolescents and families confronting the profound loss of a loved one. Started by volunteers who recognized the need for grief support in our community, the CBC of Harlingen was established with the initial support and funding from the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation. From its inception, licensed professional counselors and volunteers have been the cornerstone of the center's operation, embodying the spirit of community-driven, collaborative support. Since then, the CBC has expanded its reach to Hidalgo County, with a facility housed in McAllen at the First Presbyterian Church. This non-profit organization is under the compassionate care of Ernest Espinoza, the executive director of CBC for the RGV. Espinoza, who was inaugurated into this role in May 2021, brings a deeply personal understanding of grief to his leadership. As a child of immigrants and having lost both parents at a young age, he recognizes the unique hurdles faced by those navigating loss without adequate support. "The lack of support during the grieving process can pose massive challenges," Espinoza stated. "Through the Children’s Bereavement Center, we want to create a safe environment where [licensed professional] counselors guide children, teens, and families through the loss of a loved one.” The CBC's mission is to provide compassionate professional counseling for individuals aged 3 to 24 and their families who have lost a loved one, a testament to the belief that no one should endure the grieving process alone. "We want the community to realize that there is support available," emphasized Espinoza. With a dedicated team of counselors and volunteers, CBC offers an array of programs and services tailored to the unique needs of grieving families. These programs foster healing through various therapeutic activities, group sessions, and personalized counseling, all designed to aid in the emotional recovery process. Beyond regular sessions, the CBC organizes grief day camps during the spring, fall, and summer. Local schools in the RGV have reached out to the CBC, expressing interest in supporting students through their grief journey. "Recently, there was a meeting held by Region One, where superintendents from every school system attended," Espinoza shared. "We were able to get on their agenda and present about the CBC, and it opened doors for us big time, I think. It was like a massive breakthrough for us. Following that meeting, I received numerous emails from different ISDs wanting us to do presentations and trainings for their counselors.” While services for families are provided for free, the CBC sustains its non-profit operations through these professional training sessions and presentations, which incur a fee. This funding mechanism enables the CBC to continue its mission. Approximately 35% of the non-profit's income is derived from trainings, fundraisers, and community donations, while the remaining funds are obtained through grants, highlighting the substantial financial commitment required to provide essential grief support services. Additionally, the CBC collaborates with funeral homes, hospice care facilities, and local police authorities to offer comprehensive support to grieving families and children. "There was a study that said 1 in 16 children in the RGV are dealing with the loss of a loved one, which means there are about 32,000 children in the Valley in need of grief support," shares Espinoza, underscoring the pressing need for accessible support systems through this staggering statistic. Despite the waitlist for services, Espinoza encourages individuals to reach out, emphasizing that no one should navigate grief alone. “Grief is a journey,” reflects Espinoza. “We have to experience that journey throughout life, and what the [CBC] aims is to help our community foster healing.” For more information about the Children's Bereavement Center of the Rio Grande Valley and its programs, or if you are interested in volunteering, call them at 956-368-4065 or visit their website, www.cbc-rgv.org .