Where the Heart is

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Ronda Tacker is super-friendly, but she sure makes a mean drink. Behind the bar at Sazon , where she whips up intoxicating 1816 Margaritas (so named after the restaurant’s address – 1816 S. Lamar), Tacker makes patrons feel as welcome as she does serving diners Sazon ’s inspired interior-Mexican food. She clearly thinks of her co-workers and diners as a big family, and her son, Dylan, is at the heart of that family.

Good-natured and welcoming, Tacker grew up in Houston as a member of what she calls a “redneck rodeo” family. “You could imagine what that was like when I came out to my parents,” Tacker said. “When I was 18, my family decided to move to a small town in the hill country and I chose not to go with them. Young and gay in a small Texas town was not something I wanted at all, so I chose to stay in Houston. I had to support myself and started working more than just the part-time jobs I had while living with my parents.”

She took a job at a national pizza chain and found that not only was she good in the kitchen, she was good under pressure. “It takes a certain kind of person to work in the restaurant industry,” Tacker said. “The preparation for the rush and the rush itself, the organizing and having it all come together successfully was a rush I liked.”

She entered a management training program, where she found she had a natural talent for coaching, and eventually found herself in a training role with an area of responsibility covering Houston and College Station. “I am proud to say that many of the young people I trained over my 19 years are in key positions with (the franchise owner) now and help run his large franchise.”

With her career in a solid place, Tacker set her sights on having a child. Her thoughts on the subject are a reminder of just how much things have changed in such a short time for the LGBT community. “I had always wanted children, but really, lesbians with kids were not something that was common at that time, so I wasn’t sure it was possible,” she said.

She and her former partner were determined, however, and Dylan entered their lives. “We talked and dreamed and created the result we wanted,” Tacker said, “a beautiful, wonderful boy.”

When Dylan was two, Tacker and Dylan’s other mom (who is still a big part of his life) decided that Houston wasn’t where they wanted to raise him. “It was not a warm, friendly beautiful place,” she said. “We decided Austin was the place for us to be: beautiful, friendly, warm, music-filled…a hippie town.” or as Tacker calls it, a beach town without a beach. She jumped at the chance to fill a management position at the then up-and- coming pizza chain, Austin’s Pizza, rising to the rank of area manager during her six-year career at the local company.

It was around that time that Tacker started to feel the need for change. “I was trying to make something work that wasn’t working,” she said. She stepped down from her management role to focus on being a mom. “That’s when I found Sazon,” she said. “I met Margarito (Aranda , Sazon ’s owner) while at Austin’s pizza. I loved the food there already.” she took a leap of faith, left her job at Austin’s pizza, started working with Aranda, and walked into a family.

Although her background was in the kitchen, the idea of being a part of Aranda ’s team was an easy decision. “I had never been a server but knew I would be good at it,” Tacker said. “When I finally let go and trusted the universe to take care of me, things fell into place. I found this inner strength. I told myself, ‘I can do this.’ I knew I would be okay. I didn’t always see that strength in myself before, but now I see it. Now I feel it.”

Tacker said her customers are also a lot like family and it’s evident. During the interview (spent in part sharing Sazon ’s spot-hitting chips and queso, magical caldo and crispy huitlacoche empanadas), she momentarily excuses herself to deftly clear a table for some just-arrived guests, greeting them by name. Tacker’s obvious passion for her customers and their experience at Sazon shows she is there for more than the pay. Her appreciation and attentiveness mirrors the kind of intent and care often exhibited only during family celebrations and holidays.

“I’m really cool with life right now,” Tacker said. “I’ve come full circle.” But working at Sazon hasn’t only been good for Tacker; Dylan has benefited as well. “I love where I work,” Tacker said, “and it totally fits around Dylan’s schedule and needs.”

Of course, Tacker is happy to respond when others at the restaurant need an unplanned day off to watch their sick child or any of the
other unexpected responsibilities that come
with parenting.
“We all cover for
each other,” she 
said, “because
we all have families.”

Warm, confident and generous with his
 smile, Dylan is 
both lucky and 
smart. Tacker 
calls him the big-
gest success of her life. When Dylan’s not at his other mom’s house, he and Tacker share their home with a cat named Mary Lou Hemingway (Hemi for short); Pancho, a turtle bought at a Cinco de Mayo festival; and his partner-in-crime called (what else?) Lefty. Tacker and her son seem to be genuine buddies, and they talk of someday finding the perfect Florida beach where they’ll open a pizza place of their own. But for now, she and Dylan look pretty happy where they are. “oh yeah,” Dylan said, “Austin is awesome.”

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