Viola Botello Barrios, award-winning restaurateur and philanthropist, daughter of Alfredo Botello and Evangelina Salinas, was born in Bustamante, Nuevo León, Mexico, on July 6, 1931. After the death of her mother, Botello immigrated with her father to San Antonio, Texas. In 1956 she married José C. Barrios, a sports journalist for La Prensa. The couple had three children: Teresa Barrios Ogden, Diana Barrios Treviño, and Luis Barrios. José C. Barrios was killed by a drunk driver in 1975, and Viola never remarried.
To support the family after the death of her husband, Barrios founded Los Barrios restaurant in 1979 with only $3,000 in savings. Originally run out of an old boat garage in downtown San Antonio, the restaurant later found its permanent location on Blanco Road. Los Barrios quickly developed a reputation for its casero (home-style) Mexican food and first received national media attention when Esquire magazine named it one of the “100 Best New Restaurants in America.” Los Barrios also garnered accolades from the New York Times and was frequently featured on English and Spanish-language morning shows and cooking programs. Following its success, the Barrios family opened La Hacienda de los Barrios in 2004 and expanded the multimillion-dollar Barrios restaurant empire to eventually employ more than 200 people.
Many remember Barrios for her commitment to helping others; she tirelessly donated items and services to members of the San Antonio community. She purchased school supplies for children and mattresses for San Antonio residents lacking beds. Barrios donated funds for the renovations of a chapel and frequently donated large quantities of food to friends and neighbors. She also funded a program to construct, renovate, and repair homes for the poor in her hometown of Bustamante. In recognition of her entrepreneurial and philanthropic accomplishments, Barrios received the 2002 Inspiration Award from the San Antonio chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners and was inducted into the Texas Restaurant Association Hall of Honors in 2008. The Barrios family also received the Robert H. H. Hugman Award from the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau. The award was established to recognize people who have made a significant contribution to enhance San Antonio’s tourism industry.
On April 24, 2008, Viola Barrios was brutally murdered by her neighbor, Joe Estrada, Jr. The eighteen-year-old drug addict was accused of breaking into Barrios’s home and shooting her in the head with a bow and arrow before setting the dwelling on fire. He was eventually convicted of the crime and received a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Barrios was buried at San Fernando Cemetery No. 2 in San Antonio following a funeral Mass celebrated by Archbishop José Horacio Gómez at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church. Archbishop Emeritus Patrick Fernández Flores and San Antonio mayor Phillip Hardberger were also in attendance. In keeping with their mother’s altruistic legacy, the Barrios family publicly forgave Estrada and offered to pay for his legal fees. They also established Viola’s Huge Heart Foundation, a charity that provides educational scholarships for local students. In 2013 the Barrios family opened a third restaurant, Viola’s Ventanas, in the Westover Hills neighborhood of San Antonio.