Bearing fruit: The Pecan Tree broadens its clientele - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Bearing fruit: The Pecan Tree broadens its clientele

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Posted: Monday, June 24, 2019 9:45 pm

The Pecan Tree Motel is turning over a new leaf.

The independently owned motor lodge, set back from the interstate and well hidden at 5533 N. Expressway, is making a push into boutique territory under the management of Arturo Reyes, who took over the operation from his mother, Rosana Espinosa, about two years ago.

The new approach is reflected in Reyes’ new, unofficial name for the business — Rooms at the Pecan — plus the renovations and design touches he’s implemented since taking over.

Each room in the main building now features its own, unique, handmade headboard and basic but thoughtful decor. And whereas customers formerly registered through a drive-up window, Reyes built a small lobby in a tasteful, quasi-industrial style that looks straight out of Austin or San Antonio, complete with Keurig coffee maker.

“I told my mom, I’m going to redo the lobby,” he said. “She said OK, go ahead, but I don’t think she thought I was being serious. She had gone out of town for three days and I told my handyman, you know what? She’s out of here. Let’s rip this place apart, so as soon as I start there’s no turning back.”

Reyes is especially proud of the big, purple sliding door he installed, separating the registration area from a private room.

“Everyone loves this door,” he said. “I had pushback (from his mother) with the purple. “I was like, just let me paint it purple. You’ll see. Now everyone’s like, wow, that’s a nice, big, purple door.”

Reyes’ parents acquired the property, named for the pecan trees that dot the grounds and once grew in profusion, in 1986. At the time, it consisted of several separate cottages that the owners rented out individually. His father attached some of them together to form the main building with the largest rooms (a relative term here), while the economy rooms are situated in separate structures farther back on the property.

After Reyes’ parents got divorced, Rosana Espinosa, originally from Mexico, ran the Pecan Tree by herself. Reyes, who grew up on the grounds, said it got to the point where his mother had earned a rest, and he encouraged her to step back.

“She’s worked all her life, so it’s kind of hard for her to stop working, and I don’t want her to stop working just because I think it’s good for her,” he said. “She’s old school. This used to be a one-man show. She would do everything: clean the rooms, take care of customers, be here 24/7. She’s put in her time.”

Reyes said upgrading the property is a matter of staying within budget while making things look cool — and functional. On the front lawn he’s installed a couple of prefabricated pergolas featuring handmade wooden benches that he finished using the Japanese technique of “shou sugi ban,” which involves charring and sealing the wood rather than staining or painting it.

“This used to be just bare grass,” Reyes said. “I was thinking of ways to make it more inviting.”

He also plans to put in a pool, which Reyes hopes to have done by March in time for spring breakers. Long term, he wants to get rid of the back buildings and add a second story to the main building, and build an outdoor venue and pavilion for weddings and other events in an ash grove farther back on the property, which sits on five acres of mostly green space.

“I’m trying to showcase the outdoor area,” Reyes says. “The rooms are for resting. The living part of it is on the outside.”

Locals have made up a large share of the customer base over the years, though now the Pecan Tree is transitioning to attract a broader clientele, including the type of traveler interested in something besides the bland sameness of a big hotel chain, he said.

Reyes must be doing something right. He set out last year to grow revenue 15 percent over the previous year and did it, surprising even him. The overwhelmingly positive Google reviews suggest the reason why, with most reviewers remarking on the extreme cleanliness of the rooms, the affordable rates, and the peace and quiet.

“We have to make up for the lack of amenities,” Reyes said. “What we have, we have to make sure we’re enhancing it.”

The handful of negative reviews —including one guest who complained the room was “too quiet” — he attributes to growing pains. Reyes said the word “motel” (from “motor hotel”) has developed a seedy connotation somewhere along the way, thus the “Rooms at the Pecan” rebranding.

What’s stopped him so far from changing the name legally is that, according to Google rules, he’d lose all those lovely reviews, Reyes said.

“We’ve been working hard,” he said. “Now with social media, it’s such a powerful tool if you use it in the right way, so I’m trying to have more a social presence and cater more to a lot of the travelers.”

This year’s goal was a 10 percent growth in revenue over the previous record-setting year, a goal Reyes has already surpassed.

“It’s going well,” he said. “People are kind of stunned. Not that we’re making a ton of money, but this small, humble-looking place has fed my family for 30-plus years. We’re proud of that.”

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com

Rooms at the Pecan

5533 N. Expressway

(956) 589-0929

pecanreservations@gmail.com

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