The Star is looking at a few of Tucson’s older family-owned restaurants. The first in our series: Silver Saddle Steakhouse.
In the early 1980s, Ruben Alva had just retired from the Air Force. He and his family were ready for their next adventure.
So he borrowed every penny he could, and in 1984 he and his wife, Jane, took over the Silver Saddle Steakhouse.
“My parents knew they wanted to have their own business,” Orlando Alva, son of Ruben, says.
“They traveled the world and fell in love with Tucson. They knew this is where they wanted to be.”
Orlando and his brother Mario now run the restaurant.
Before Silver Saddle was Silver Saddle, the building was home to the Pickwick Inn, which had opened in the ’60s and was known as one of the last segregated restaurants in Tucson.
The Silver Saddle Steakhouse settled into that building in 1980. By ’84, the owner was ready to sell and Ruben Alva was ready to buy.
While there have been hard times, there have been no regrets.
The Alvas liked the steakhouse concept, so they decided to build on it.
“Everything was hand-cut; there was a butcher on-site,” Orlando says. “The original restaurant had the open-pit grill in the dining room, so the customers could see it.
“My parents fell in love with the ambience. Maintaining the atmosphere and the fresh menu was a priority.”
Other than reupholstering the seating and rebuilding booths in the dining room, Silver Saddle has stayed true to its roots. Orlando says his family wanted to keep the rustic vibe.
The Tapadera Lounge, an additional seating space inside of Silver Saddle, has probably seen the most changes. The lounge used to be more of a bar, often offering live music. But, as Silver Saddle gained popularity, a bigger demand for seating space followed.
“The Tapadera Lounge is more of a dining experience rather than a bar now,” Orlando says. “We transformed it to be more family-friendly.”
As for the menu, a few new steaks were added when the Alva family took over. The biggest addition was the prime rib, which is now a Silver Saddle specialty.
The Alva family also kept the same chef, Eddie Hernandez, who stayed with the restaurant for over 20 years.
“He became a legend,” Orlando says. The restaurant continues to use Hernandez’s recipes.
The first big struggle came a few years after opening, when construction to widen Interstate 10 began. The project lasted more than a year.
Silver Saddle sits off of I-10 on East Benson Highway and access to the restaurant is from the frontage road. The construction made it difficult for patrons to reach the restaurant.
“The I-10 construction almost closed us down,” Orlando says.
“My parents said that if the construction went on for another month, we would’ve been done. It was very hard.”
And just when they thought the worst had already come, a fire caused the restaurant to shut down for nearly four months in 1994.
Orlando says the fire was determined to be electrical, more than likely started by faulty wiring in an outlet.
“We had to shut down for a while,” Orlando says. “It was really tough to reopen, but we fought through it and we made it.”
The kitchen was damaged the most, although the dining area was also affected. The Alvas had a loyal team of employees who helped repair the damages.
Orlando says it’s incredible to see Silver Saddle continue to thrive.
“When restaurants and bars open, a lot of them close within the first couple of years,” he says. “There’s a combination of reasons for it, but just for us to overcome that, is amazing.”
Gloria Knott is a Tucson-based freelance writer.