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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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The Story of The Santa Fe Steakhouse Wine Classic and Its Impact on the Rio Grande Valley

A Culinary Journey for Education

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Sony Rego. Photo by Roberto Hugo González
Sony Rego. Photo by Roberto Hugo González
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By Roberto Hugo González

In the Rio Grande Valley, where the spirit of love for education stands, a lady of philanthropy is led by a remarkable Sony Rego, along with her husband Albert and their partner Fred Harms. These co-owners of the Santa Fe Steakhouse and founders of The Santa Fe Steakhouse Foundation have crafted more than just a dining establishment; they have ignited a movement dedicated to fostering local talent and supporting students’ educational journeys.

Pictured above is Sony Rego, in a red dress, flanked by an exceptional and distinguished group of ladies during the Santa Fe Steakhouse Wine Classic event at La Quinta Mazatlan on April 5, 2024. Photo by Roberto Hugo González

The foundation recently hosted its 13th annual Santa Fe Steakhouse Wine Classic, South Texas’s premier culinary festival, under the theme “A Spanish Affair to Remember.” This immersive cultural experience promised and delivered an evening of romance, entertainment, and, most importantly, a commitment to the future of the Valley’s youth. In an exclusive interview, Sony shared insights into this enchanting event’s creation and continuous success, set against the magical backdrop of Quinta Mazatlán.

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Adrian & Maria Burone. Adrian is the BMW Dealership in McAllen, part of the Bert Ogden Auto Group, and one of the presenting sponsors of the Santa Fe Steakhouse Wine Classic fundraising scholarship program. Photo by Roberto Hugo González

From its inception in 2009, the Wine Classic was designed to be more than just a food and wine festival. It was a visionary platform to showcase over 200 exquisite wines from around the globe alongside the culinary masterpieces of local chefs. Sony’s invitation to the community was a call to action, a journey through taste that supports a brighter future for the Valley’s students.

Dr. Ricardo Solis, President of South Texas College, shared his pride in the culinary arts students’ participation in this premier event. Their involvement, especially in preparing high-end desserts, marked a milestone in the college’s culinary program and highlighted the growing culinary landscape in the Rio Grande Valley.

Dr. Ricardo Solis and wife Dr. Sylvia Solis

As the evening unfolded, the success of this year’s event was evident. With nearly all tickets sold out a month in advance, the foundation saw an overwhelming response from the community, underlining the event’s significance and the widespread support for its cause. The Wine Classic has evolved from offering 350 tickets to the public in its first year to becoming a predominantly sponsor-supported event, reflecting the strong ties and commitment within the community.

The event highlighted the participation of notable chefs such as Larry Delgado, Chef Gonzalez of Santa Fe Steakhouse, and Chef Victor from the Republic of the Rio Grande. Moreover, including students from the STC culinary program, who took charge of preparing all desserts, showcased the growing talent in the Valley and provided a platform for these promising chefs to shine.

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Sony Rego’s dedication to the community and education is palpable. “All proceeds from the Wine Classic benefit students and their culinary program in the Valley,” she emphasized, highlighting the event’s philanthropic essence.

Chef Larry and Jessica Delgado. Photo by Roberto Hugo González

Through the Santa Fe Steakhouse Wine Classic, Sony, Albert, and Fred Harms have created a legacy of giving back, uniting the Rio Grande Valley to support local education, and empowering the youth. Their work serves as a reminder of the impact community-driven initiatives can have on shaping the future for the next generation.

The Continuing Impact of The Santa Fe Steakhouse Foundation

Under her leadership, the foundation has set a benchmark for culinary excellence and become synonymous with community upliftment and educational support.

The foundation has consistently raised significant funds through the annual Santa Fe Steakhouse Wine Classic to aid various educational initiatives. This year’s proceeds are earmarked for the South Texas College (STC) culinary and International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Lamar School.

The Santa Fe Steakhouse Wine Classic has been a fundamental event, raising thousands of dollars annually to fund scholarships and educational programs. With palpable enthusiasm, Sony shared the foundation’s support horizon in past years, extending its philanthropy to include the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Lamar School and the McAllen ISD S.T.R.I.D.E.S. program. 

Sony’s narrative is one of gratitude and community service. Arriving in the United States from Jalisco, México, in 2000 without speaking the language, she found a welcoming community in McAllen that supported her journey. Through the foundation, she pays that kindness forward, empowering students to pursue their educational dreams with financial support. The foundations’ scholarships, typically amounting to $1,000 per student, are designed to cover tuition fees and other essential expenses, ensuring a smoother transition to college life.

Balancing her philanthropic efforts with running multiple successful restaurants, Sony credits her success to her exceptional team and the support of her partners and the community. From the inception of The Republic of the Rio Grande to the expansion into other ventures like the Santa Fe Steakhouse and University Draft House, Sony’s journey is exemplified by hard work, dedication, and her involvement in the community.

Flavors, culture, and philanthropy took center stage at the Santa Fe Steakhouse Wine Classic. This event, supported by a coalition of the Valley’s finest culinary talents, showcased the remarkable intersection of gastronomy and goodwill.

Sony and Albert Rego, as well as many friends and supporters of the Santa Fe Steakhouse Wine Classic scholarship fundraiser.  Photo by Roberto Hugo González

This year’s theme, “A Spanish Affair to Remember,” transported guests on a culinary journey through Spain. A dazzling array of dishes highlighted Spanish cuisine’s rich diversity and sophistication. The night featured prominent local chefs and restaurants contributing their culinary expertise to support the Santa Fe Steakhouse Foundation’s mission of funding educational scholarships.

Among the notable participants were Chef Larry Delgado and his wife Jessica, who are well-known for operating high-end culinary establishments and enthusiastically participated in the Santa Fe Steakhouse Wine Classic, which aims to support students in the Rio Grande Valley through fundraising. The Delgados, who have been involved in this event for many years as food providers, shared their excitement about the evening’s offerings and the overall impact of the event. 

Chef Delgado and Jessica brought their unique flair from the house. wine. & bistro and SALT—New American Table. They also contributed to the Rio Grande’s culinary scene. The collaboration extended to Kumori Sushi & Teppanyaki, with owner Paco Paez, and a commendable partnership with Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods, showcasing the effort to uplift and empower through education. Val LaMantia of L&F Distributors was also among the notable participants of this event.

Laura Nassri Warren, a loyal Santa Fe Steakhouse Wine Classic supporter, enthusiastically shared her perspective on the event’s significant impact on the community and sensory experience. “The Wine Classic is much more than just a gathering; it’s an event that engages all senses, fosters community involvement, and serves a meaningful purpose,” Laura emphasized.

Laura Nassri Warren. Photo by Roberto Hugo González

The foundation’s engagement with the culinary and educational sectors was further highlighted by the participation of the South Texas College (STC) culinary program students and chefs, marking a new chapter in the event’s history. These aspiring chefs had the opportunity to present their desserts, described by Sony as “pieces of art,” offering sweet proof of the talent nurtured within the Valley’s educational institutions.

The event also featured an exquisite selection of wines, with over 200 labels from around the world meticulously curated to complement the evening’s Spanish theme. Thanks to the contributions of Republic Beverage Company, Glazer’s Distributors, and L&F Distributors, guests were treated to an exclusive tasting experience featuring often elusive and highly sought-after wines.

McAllen Mayor Javier and his wife, Annette Villalobos. Photo by Roberto Hugo González

The culinary delights ranged from authentic Paella Valenciana to innovative takes on traditional dishes, such as Paella Verde by The Republic of Rio Grande, offering a gastronomic exploration of Spain’s rich culinary heritage. The event was not just a feast for the taste buds but also for the senses, adorned with flamenco dancers from Austin and live Latin music by Ache de Barrio, enhancing the Spanish ambiance.

Annette Franz, The Zonta Club of West Hidalgo County’s president and past Board Chairman of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, expressed her enthusiasm and support for the Santa Fe Wine Classic, highlighting its significance to McAllen and the Valley. She praised the Rego family, particularly Sony and her team at the Santa Fe Steakhouse, Republic of the Rio Grande, and the Draft House, for their dedication and community service. According to Franz, the event stands out for its commitment to raising scholarship funds. All proceeds from the event are dedicated to scholarships that benefit local students and support culinary programs.

Annette Franz. Photo by Roberto Hugo González

Sony has expressed deep appreciation for Annette Franz. In a statement to Texas Border Business, Sony credited Ms. Franz’s prompt action for propelling the continued success of the Santa Fe Steakhouse Wine Classic’s student scholarship fundraising event. “We owe much thanks to Ms. Franz,” Sony remarked.

Sony, reflecting on the success of the evening and already envisioning the future, hinted at potential themes for the next year’s event, ranging from Argentinian to French cuisine, highlighting her commitment to bringing diverse culinary experiences to the Valley. Her gratitude extended to the City of McAllen, Mayor Javier Villalobos, and the many sponsors and supporters who made the night possible, emphasizing the event’s role in fostering a sense of community and support for education in the Rio Grande Valley.

At the Santa Fe Steakhouse Wine Classic, Sony and her team, along with the participating chefs and sponsors, have crafted an event that transcends the ordinary, impacting the students who benefit from their generosity and the culinary landscape of the Rio Grande Valley.

Valente Rodriguez. Photo by Roberto Hugo González

Valente Rodriguez, widely recognized for his role in the “George Lopez Show,” shared his impressions of the Santa Fe Steakhouse Wine Classic, a fundraising event dedicated to raising student scholarship funds. 

Sony’s commitment to making a difference is reflected in her firm support for the event since its inception. Laura’s dedication is evident in her assurance of continued attendance, underlining her belief in the event’s value and role in its ongoing success. Her comments highlight the Wine Classic’s role in showcasing culinary and wine excellence and uniting the community around a cause that benefits the Rio Grande Valley.


We thank our top presenting sponsors, L&F Distributors and Bert Ogden Auto Group.

Specs, Republic Beverage, and Glazers for their support. Special recognition goes to the vibrant culinary establishments that added flavor to the event: The Republic of the Rio Grande, House Wine and Bistro, Bodega, Kumori, and Santa Fe Steakhouse.

Our sincere thanks to Dr. Ricardo Solis. This year marked a memorable first as we welcomed the talented STC Culinary Students to the Wine Classic, who exceptionally managed the dessert offerings, demonstrating skill and creativity.

We are also profoundly thankful to the local business community for their generous contributions to the silent auction, with special appreciation for CARATS, Laura Nassri Warren, and Laura Gutierrez, whose exceptional displays significantly enriched the event. Sincerely Sony Rego

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