New Three Rivers bistro honors Sonia Jean

Myrna Chavarria, Alyssa Ponce and Joseph Chavarria have opened a new restaurant, Sonia Jean's Bistro, off North Harborth (Highway 281) in Three Rivers, next to TR Bar. The restaurant is named for Myrna and Joseph's sister and Alyssa's mother, who dreamed of opening a coffee and sandwich shop in Three Rivers, but recently died of cancer. The business is usual open by 8 a.m. daily, and is open until at least 4 p.m.

THREE RIVERS — Although Sonia Jane’s Bistro is the newest restaurant in town, the atmosphere, friendliness of the owners and the niche it fills in the community makes it seem like it has been in business a long time.

That’s the goal of Joseph and Myrna Chavarria, the brother and sister who opened the restaurant to fulfill the dream of their sister, Sonia Jean, who originally planned to open the bistro.

Located off busy Highway 281 (North Harborth) right next to the TR Bar, Sonia Jean had worked for months to open the coffee and sandwich shop, but her untimely death meant it would be left to others to actually see her vision through.

Sonia Jean’s daughter, Alyssa Ponce, is also helping to bring Sonia’s dream alive.

“The restaurant is named for our sister who passed away from cancer,” Joseph said. “She was alive and well and seemed so healthy. We were confident she would survive because she had stem cell treatment. That’s why we are doing this — to honor her.”

Alyssa plans to join the military — either the Army or Air Force, she said, but for now, she is helping her aunt and uncle in the bistro.

“I’m putting my life on hold to help with the restaurant,” Alyssa said. “My mom would have wanted me to do this.”

Although they are both from San Antonio, Joseph and Myrna — as well as their sister Sonia — all spent part of their childhood in Three Rivers and George West, attending school here. 

Their father was in the Air Force so they spent time moving from place to place — and even lived in Europe for a while. However, with several family members living in the area, including their grandfather, who resided in Three Rivers, the Chavarrias spent plenty of time in Live Oak County.

“This is our hometown, even though we moved around,” Joseph said. “We’re both military veterans and want to encourage any military veterans here to come and share their stories, history and pictures.”

Myrna is involved in a veterans assistance organization in San Antonio that helps veterans who are homeless, need mental health assistance or benefits.

“I want to try and do something like that here — not just for veterans but for the community as a whole. We want to get involved in helping different types of families.”

Smooth jazz or classic tunes from the past are often playing in the restaurant, and comfortable furniture invites customers to stay a while.

The Chavarrias want to make the bistro an oasis off busy Highway 281. They also want to welcome students who might need a place to hang out for a while after school.

“We want kids to know they can come here and relax,” Joseph said. “We want this to be a safe place for them after school, and for their parents to also know they can come here. We have a table for the students to work at and have chalkboards for them to use if they need to.”

The restaurant will also soon have WiFi for people who want to sit with a cup of coffee and use the Internet.

Neither of the Chavarrias have experience in the restaurant business, but they do have other business experience they are relying on as they adjust to their new line of work.

“I just quit my job, so this is a leap of faith.” Joesph said. He previously worked as the lead salesman for a uniform company in San Antonio.

Myrna owns a construction company in San Antonio — Manual Construction Solutions — that did much of the work in renovating the building the restaurant is in.

The bistro was originally going to be named after their father, Manny, but when Sonia Jean died before the restaurant opened, Jospeh and Myrna said they decided to name it after her.

“We didn’t think Dad would mind,” Myrna said. “Sonia Jean wanted to open a coffee shop in Three Rivers, and we are going to make it happen.”

With deep roots in Live Oak County, Joseph and Myrna said they are excited to be back in the community.

“We wanted to come back here,” Joseph said. “We moved from the small town to the big city, but we really like being back in a small town. I’m staying here in the house that Sonia had.”

Building on Sonia Jane’s vision, the Chavarrias are determined to offer the community something different.

“We don’t want to sell tacos or barbecue,” Joseph said. “We will mainly sell hot sandwiches and coffee.”

Creating an inviting atmosphere is important to Myrna, she said. 

“I love the ambiance here,” she said. “We want it to be welcoming. My goal is for people to be able to come here and relax for a while.”

English muffins are offered for breakfast on weekdays, and a breakfast buffet including scrambled eggs, sausage and toast as well as other items, is served on weekends.

The opening time for the restaurant on a regular basis is still being determined. Myrna once had the bistro open at 4:30 a.m., but the Chavarrias determined that is too early for most customers. 

Joseph said he is usually on site by 6 a.m., and the weekend breakfast buffet will be served starting about 8 a.m.

On the first Sunday of each month, by request, Joseph plans to serve his signature menudo.

“Some of the refinery guys asked for it,” he said.

Nevertheless, sandwiches and coffee remain the speciality of the bistro.

“That’s our signature,” Myrna said.

What are their favorite items on the menu?

“Any of the sandwiches,” Joseph said. “Those are really good. I’m not a coffee guy myself.

Myrna said she also likes all of the sandwiches, but her favorite is the only cold sandwich on the menu, which includes cucumber, cream cheese, avocado, arugula and tomato on a croissant.

The hot sandwiches – paninis — are all served on sourdough bread.

Many of the sandwiches are named after oilfield terms, with monikers such as The Rookie, The Roughneck, The Big Bear, The Fracture, The Roustabout or The Roustabout II.

A variety of coffee choices are available, including regular drip coffee, latte, cold brew and espresso.

The drip coffee is free to police and firefighters.

For those who don’t drink coffee, choices include bottled water, Gold Peak tea, juice, canned sodas, Cola-Cola de Mexico and Top Chico.

“People have told me that our cold brew coffee tastes better than Starbucks,” Joseph said. “That’s not me saying that, it’s other people who have tried it.”

The coffee is served with homemade cream, Myrna said.

Live Oak County has welcomed the bistro, Joseph said.

“Recently at lunch it was a little bit overwhelming, but we are so glad the people are welcoming here,” he said. “Some of the customers don’t know we’re actually from here.

“Our grandfather, Lupe Chavarria lived here and worked at the refinery. He taught me a lot.”

Myrna said she first heard her sister Sonia talk about opening a restaurant in Three Rivers about a year ago.

“It took about eight months to finish it while working on other jobs in San Antonio,” she said. “Sonia used to own a construction company, and for 30 years she was a hospice caregiver.”

The Chavarrias are also public notaries, providing that service on both weekdays and weekends.

Eventually, they also plan to offer copy and scanning services for customers.

The restaurant plans to accept credit cards at some point, but for now, it is accepting cash only.

Updates about Sonia Jean’s Bistro can be found on the restaurant’s Facebook page, and the Chavarrias hope to have a website up by the end of September.

“We appreciate the support we’ve gotten, and we look forward to people stopping in to see us,” Myrna said. “We’re excited to make this happen for our sister.”

Jeff Osborne is the editor of The Progress. He can be reached at 361-786-3022 or theprogress@mysoutex.com.