What started out as a part-time college job for Eric Linares ended up being a life-changing experience.
While he was a student studying entrepreneurship at Baylor University, Linares worked at the Sherwin-Williams paint store at 1022 Columbus Avenue. During his time there, he met lots of young entrepreneurs hoping to make their mark on Downtown Waco, folks like the founders of Pinewood Coffee Roasters. They, and others that Linares met, were doing exactly what he hoped to do.
Today, at 28, Linares is that young entrepreneur. He has several irons in the fire, all of them based in the downtown area. He handles social media management and event creation and planning. He’s hoping that as Waco continues to grow and thrive, the communities that have been in place for generations will remain, as the city embraces the diversity and beauty of those communities.
Linares met Wacoan writer Kevin Tankersley in an outdoor space at One Day Bar on Columbus Avenue, just a few blocks from his former employer.
WACOAN: What brought you to Waco? Was it Baylor?
Linares: Yes, it was. I came out here back in 2012. To be honest, I had never even heard of Waco before Baylor. I applied on a whim because it was one of the schools that everybody talked about, and they were the first ones to get back to me. So I decided, all right. I didn’t even step foot on campus until like a week before [school] started. I just wanted to be here, and here I am now.
WACOAN: What did you study at Baylor?
Linares: I studied entrepreneurship, corporate innovation. I started off in the business school — or I started off in biology as every freshman does, and then promptly switched to business. I did entrepreneurship because I figured it was the most fluid one that I could work with after school.
WACOAN: When you decided to study entrepreneurship, did you have any plans for after graduation?
Linares: No, not really. When it came to the idea of entrepreneurship, my entire family had always had their own businesses. Not necessarily for the sense of being their own boss or anything, it was just kind of like a necessity.
My parents were both immigrants here and got their citizenship and everything. The only thing you could do was start your own business to be able to survive. So all my family did that. And I just assumed that I would figure something out. I knew I was going to do my own thing. So that’s why entrepreneurship fit in with what I wanted to be.
WACOAN: From where did your folks emigrate?
Linares: They were from the Tamaulipas area [in Mexico]. My dad came over here back in the ’80s. He worked farms all throughout America. Then after he got his citizenship, he managed to bring over my mom, and they got all their things settled up. They ended up down in Beaumont, Texas. That’s where I’m from originally. I lived there all my life until I moved here.
WACOAN: What’s your favorite burger at Willy Burger in Beaumont?
Linares: The Booty Burger, with boudain and grilled onions. When it comes to burgers in general, I like just experimenting with all the ones around town.
For the longest time, I worked at Sherwin-Williams, down the street. And we used to always go to Kitok and get the Lip Locker down there. And then hit up Dubl-R and Cupp’s [Drive-Inn]. Now I really enjoy Revival [Eastside Eatery]. Revival’s stuff is so fresh.
Sometimes if I want a big burger, I go to Waco Ale Co. Waco Ale has some really good burgers. They have a hot chicken [sandwich] that I’m really about.
WACOAN: Have you tried the Mexican hamburger at Rufi’s Cocina?
Linares: No, I haven’t. I go to Rufi’s a lot. One of my best friends lives across the street. From the first time we went in there, I knew, this spot’s legit. We always go for breakfast, so we get the breakfast tacos, chilaquiles, migas. But I’m gonna have to try that Mexican burger.
WACOAN: So you own Quetzal Co. What does that do?
Linares: Quetzal is like a parent company to a lot of different things. Right now we’re transitioning to launch Xochis, which is an agua frescas line, with the idea of being able to provide a very fresh product when it comes to drinks or cut fruit.
That’s actually what my family worked in. My uncle, who still lives in Mexico, has worked in street markets. Every time we would go back to visit them, he would always put me to work, cutting fruit, selling it, selling plates of fruit, mangoes, everything. So I always loved the idea of being there, interacting with people and then providing a fresh product.
The market is such a lively place where you get every kind of interaction that you wouldn’t typically get in a storefront or a restaurant. It’s more lively, and I enjoy that interaction. So that’s why I love doing the fruit and the agua frescas and why I got into markets in general and creating spaces for people.
WACOAN: Explain what agua frescas are, please.
Linares: Agua frescas are essentially fruit drinks. It’s taking a fruit and you blend it up with water and natural sugars, and you create a flavored water. That’s always been a very big thing, especially during the summer times. It’s just a refreshing drink.
I like to take it up a notch and rim [the glass] with chamoy. We also make our own special chamoy blend, so it just turns into a paste. You can rim anything. I do it with agua frescas, but a lot of people rim their beers or other drinks.
WACOAN: What is chamoy?
Linares: It’s a combination of a lot of things. It’s basically like a candy. Chamoy itself is this red liquid that is candy-based. You put it on all kinds of fruit. But when we make the paste, we mix that in with like chili, and sometimes we use Lucas candy, and it just creates this paste of semi-sweet, semi-spicy candy goodness that goes on everything. In Hispanic culture, we love throwing that on anything.
WACOAN: Is Xochis going to be a food truck or a storefront?
Linares: The idea with that one is to create at first a food truck for more like pop-up situations. I’ve always been big in pop-up situations where we create an event that brings out people and it adds to it. So music, food, interaction, community. That’s always been the formula for doing whatever I do.
But the idea is eventually to create a space where you have that and then can bring in the other components, bring in the music components, the community space components, and have a location that encapsulates all of that.
WACOAN: What else falls under Quetzal?
Linares: Once we get the Xochis back out, we’ll relaunch our food program that we had. That’s how I first got connected with a lot of the people out here in Waco was through food. And through launching Quetzal Tacos, which was creating this line of homemade masa, blue corn tortillas, guisados, those slow-cooked, traditional food dishes, the kind of stuff that you would eat growing up in your home, not necessarily street tacos.
This type of food has been cooked in our family’s kitchens for generations. All these traditional dishes, created and put on blue corn tortillas, which are probably some of the healthiest types of tortillas out there. So presenting natural, traditional, but very delicious Mexican food. Eventually we’ll bring that back into the fold.
WACOAN: What is your role in Eastside Market?
Linares: I’m one of the co-founders for that one. Where that idea came from, for me, was a continuation of wanting to create community or community spaces that also uplift smaller businesses around here.
My brother, who still lives in Beaumont, we would always go to all these markets and events in Houston. There’s a lot of vintage markets down there, something more than a farmers market, like an artists [market] and a very, very creative space. I noticed that we didn’t have this creative, musical space for markets and stuff like that.
At the time, I had already done some events with Brotherwell Brewing, so I knew that their space was very open and able to hold space for all these small businesses, artists, entrepreneurs. We came up with the idea and said, let’s do this. Let’s try it.
From the moment we sat down and said, let’s build it, to our first market was like a month-and-a-half. People were ready for events, more markets, more locations where they can just come out here, hang out, see their friends, support local business, get a beer, see art. It just flourished from there.
Eastside Market is hosted every third Sunday [of the month] over at Brotherwell Brewing. And essentially, it takes the form of a creative artists market. We’ll usually have like 40 vendors set up throughout the grounds. We’ll have five to six food trucks always set up.
We have a giant graffiti wall. Every market, we bring in local graffiti artists, or people that come in from Dallas or Austin. We’ll repaint the whole [wall], and they’ll go at it again. MC Art Supplies is co-sponsor of that. It’s a competition between the artists, so they can win gift cards [to MC Art Supplies]. It’s really cool.
We really didn’t know what it would come together as, but we’re really happy with the vision that’s unfolded. October’s market will be on the 17th.
WACOAN: You’re doing something with the Mayborn Museum? The ofrenda?
WACOAN: I don’t know what that is.
Linares: Being Hispanic and Mexican, I’ve always wanted to incorporate a lot more of our traditional heritage in anything that I tried to do. So two years ago, some friends got together and decided to create more publicity for Dia de los Muertos. It’s a very special cultural holiday, where we honor all of our loved ones that have passed away. We remember them in life, and the ofrenda is a way of doing that.
The ofrenda essentially takes place in anybody’s household. You basically create an altar. It’s multi-staged. Each stage has a different significance as we get further up. There’s a lot of symbolic pieces of it.
You have cempasuchil, which are the marigolds. They attract the spirits of our ancestors with their smell. You have salt, which repels negative spirits. You have water, you have bread, and basically anything that the loved one used to enjoy when they were living, you place that around the altar.
And then the biggest part is you place their image so they can find their way to their altar. Ofrenda means offering, so it’s an offering place where we try to offer our love and condolences and remember them and how they were in life.
Two years ago, we did the Dia de los Muertos Festival down at the South Waco [Community Center]. We created this festival, kind of on a whim. We didn’t see any other representation of our culture in a festival, so we just did it, and it was such a great hit. It was amazing. We had such an amazing turnout.
Then we were going to plan for a bigger one, but of course, that was 2020. That’s when the pandemic hit, and it shut everything down.
Thankfully, the Mayborn Museum, [in partnership with] the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, wanted to provide spaces to showcase more art and cultural events. So we developed this awesome exhibit with a community ofrenda, where anybody could come in and lay a picture of their loved one on the ofrenda.
It was kind of like an interactive art installation, essentially. We kept that open for two weeks, and I thought it was an amazing opportunity, working with [the Mayborn]. They are really trying to connect with the communities that are around them now. So this year, we’re going to do that again.
We’re going to have the community ofrenda. We’re actually getting a much bigger space and a much cooler part of it, and we’re going to have some artists come in and do some artwork around it. I’m really excited to see that whole thing come together.
WACOAN: When will that be?
Linares: It’s going to start in September, and it’s going to go through October, ending the first week of November, which is the typically the day of Dia de los Muertos.
WACOAN: When you are creating an ofrenda in your home, does each loved one get their own ofrenda?
Linares: Typically, homes will have just one ofrenda, and on it will showcase all the loved ones we have. The ones we do at my family’s house, we have all my grandmothers and all my aunts and uncles that have passed away.
It’s just a space to remind ourselves, keep them alive in our memories. It also helps us understand more the idea of mortality, which is something that Mexican culture has a really interesting way of incorporating into their culture and their celebrations. It’s a part of life, essentially. It’s what gives life its value, the idea that it will end. The idea that one day, we will be remembered, gives every moment that we’re living right now its beauty.
WACOAN: Is that a cultural or a religious tradition?
Linares: It’s a synthesis. When you think of Mexican culture, or Latin American culture in general, it’s basically a union of a lot of native traditions that existed — pre-Columbian traditions that existed, combined with Roman Catholicism, typical European religions. So it created all of these festivals and celebrations that are basically a combination of both of those.
It’s an example of who Mexican people are, in general. They are a combination of Old World and New World.
WACOAN: How did you get involved with the Greater Waco Chamber and the Waco under 40?
Linares: Just doing community events. I’ve always had a big heart for community events, through doing festivals and doing markets. We’ve done a lot of different cultural events.
I did a Purim Pub Crawl with a friend of mine, which was a celebration of a Jewish festival. And we’ve helped out with Creative Waco with the [Wacotown] Chalk and Walk festival. We’re a part of all the little events that we do on Seventh Street. I think it’s just the more you get involved with the community, the more you meet people, the more you come into places.
Then, happily, I was nominated for the Waco under 40 this year, and really excited to just continue to be a mover toward creating community events and creating spaces where we can have a stronger bond between our people here in Waco.
WACOAN: When you graduated from Baylor, what kept you in Waco?
Linares: My family, we purchased a home here, out near the edge of Waco. So having a place already here, having some friends that were already a part of here. And then I was working with Sherwin-Williams, so that kept me here.
My final years at Baylor I was working part time at Sherwin. Once I graduated, they offered me a management position there, and I decided to take it. So I stuck around through Sherwin.
Working at Sherwin was really kind of awesome, because everyone that was building things during that 2016, 2017 era, they’re all getting their paint there. So I saw the amount of things happening on the ground, all these buildings being bought up. You could see that something was gonna happen. And then I also met a lot of real cool entrepreneurs through there.
I met Dylan Washington and J.D. Beard from Pinewood. I sold them paint to paint their Pinewood [coffee shop]. I was talking with them and talking with other small entrepreneurs and people that were just wanting to create things. You could tell that Waco had this momentum that was building up.
And I put in my two weeks [notice at Sherwin-Williams]; I took a little mini-Sabbatical to Mexico City, just traveling around, came back and then fell back on my photography skills. I started doing social media management for Black Oak Art and Gather Waco, and then with their help, getting more connected with what was happening in Waco. I just knew that something’s gonna happen here and I can’t leave it.
WACOAN: When you were at Sherwin-Williams, what’s the strangest thing somebody brought in for you to match the color?
Linares: Somebody brought in an old toy tin car or little truck that had a forest green on it. They wanted to color match that because they wanted to paint a part of their bar that same color. It was always a hassle but also a fun challenge to be able to get a match. That’s definitely one of the ones that stick out.
WACOAN: What do you like about Waco?
Linares: Nowadays, the biggest thing I love about Waco is really its people, the people that I’ve met here, the people I interact with all the time, seeing how they help each other out.
I think it’s pretty rare to go into a community where there is such a strong level of collaboration, supporting each other’s businesses, even if they are competitors. I know all the owners of the coffee shops and the majority of them, they actively go to other people’s coffee shops and support them. Food places support other food places. If something happens with a place, the entire community comes up and then starts helping or trying to raise money or trying to raise awareness for things.
Also, the history of Waco is really interesting, seeing how it’s always had kind of its same path for the longest time, and now it’s diverging. Now it’s going toward something different. It’s a really cool opportunity to make sure that that path is a path that’s beneficial for all of the communities here in Waco.
That’s something that I’ve always [felt] very strong about is creating awareness or space to make sure that none of our communities are left out of what this new Waco will eventually be. So whatever way I can do that, creating markets, creating places where we can level up small businesses on the same playing field of awareness, or really getting down and trying to figure out what are these kind of problems that we have in our community and trying to make differences in them.
So, I think right now, since Waco is in this moment of reinventing itself, it’s the most important time to make sure that that doesn’t steamroll all the other communities that have already existed here. We all want to see Waco become a great place for everyone. So that’s one of the cool things that I love about Waco.
WACOAN: What does Waco need?
Linares: The funny answer is a Waffle House.
WACOAN: Absolutely. My wife has been saying that for years.
Linares: I grew up with five Waffle Houses within driving distance. So I don’t understand why there’s not a Waffle House. Why do I have to drive an hour to get a simple pecan waffle at 4 in the morning? That drives me insane. So that’s one.
The other thing is, I think Waco needs to really double down on itself. It needs to reinvest in the people, or really support the people that are doing things. A lot of people have dreams in this city. A lot of people are trying to do things. It’s up to us as Waco in general to support all these small businesses or creatives or people that are trying their best to do something. That’s how we get more variety of food, of culture, of this and that, is if we’re supporting the people that are trying to do that, they’re starting small from the cracks and bubbling up.
We want to make Waco’s roots as strong as we can, so that maybe in 5 or 10 years, we have a very, very beautiful, culturally supporting place. So I think that’s one of the biggest things we should be able to do.
WACOAN: When you’re not working at all of the things that you do, what do you like to do?
Linares: I like to like to hang out with friends. I’m a very social guy. I love spending time with people and all the groups of people that I have. My friends [Katie and Jacob Selman] just opened up Stay Classy Waco, a new bar. We’ll go to all these bars. Or just going to the lake. I love going out to the lake and taking in the atmosphere and having a good time with good friends.
WACOAN: What else do I need to know?
Linares: Well, we have a big Dia de los Muertos Festival coming up. This is actually in collaboration with a lot of local organizations like Creative Waco, the Hispanic chamber. It’s October 30 from 4 to 9-ish p.m.
We’re going to have a parade. It’s going to be the first Dia de los Muertos parade that we’re going to have here, so we’re trying to get as many organizations and people involved. We’re actually going to have prize money for the best floats or organizations. It’s completely free to get into the parade. They just have to go online to sign up.
We’ll also have a big vendor market with a lot of artisanal goods and everything. We’ll have a stage set up with live music, traditional dances.
We’ll have Roxana Robles, an amazing, talented designer here in Waco. She’s doing a whole fashion show based on La Catrina, which is the representation of skeleton lady. She’s really a representation of like the bourgeoisie at that time. We’re going to have a lot of models modeling all these beautiful dresses that she’s going to bring out.
We’re just going to have a great time, really have an opportunity to showcase culture and tradition in the heart of downtown. It’s going to be at Indian Spring Park, and that’ll happen October 30. That’s one of the big festival events that I’m trying to get going right now.