My father has been self-employed for most of his adult life, just like his father, my grandfather. My dad has always taught my siblings and I and now his grandchildren, the importance of hard work, perseverance and commitment to family. He is someone I consider not just my father, but a friend and a mentor. And while none of us are engineers like he is, two out of four of his children are also self-employed and we all use his (and our wonderful mother’s) guidance to help us through life. So, I was interested in learning about three generations of San Antonian Garza’s who have for 67 years and counting, run La Monita Tortilleria, the staple molina on the Westside. It was established in 1952 by patriarch Henry Garza, taken over by his son Joe Garza in 1976 and today is run by third generation owner Richard Garza.
Henry Garza included his seven children in the operations of La Monita Tortilleria, each helping their father around the shop after school and in the summer. As an adult, his son Joe demonstrated a heightened interest in how the business was run. and in 1976, while concurrently working three jobs to support his growing family, decided to purchase the business from his father when he retired. Taking helm, Joe also showed his children what his dad Henry had demonstrated to him and his siblings – a strong work ethic needed to run your own successful business.
Joe’s son Richard, the youngest of four, learned that “nothing is given” and you must work hard to succeed. His spirit of entrepreneurship started early, when at age 10 he started selling the San Antonio Light newspaper to customers, 300 weekend editions at a time. When he was older, he worked the cashier and conduct sales. He also learned to make the corn-based products that are the foundation of La Monita Tortilleria, starting with masa that is created from scratch using an 80-year old metal machine used by each generation – grandfather Henry, father Joe and Richard. Tortillas, tamales, gorditas and other maiz-based specialties are popular. Tailored tamales made using requested ingredients (like vegan, plant-based “meats” or organic beans, for example) are available for customers who place orders at least two weeks in advance.
As an adult in 1976, he switched gears temporarily working in the truck driving industry, which prompted his father Joe to begin asking him, “what do you want to do in life?” That question resonated and fueled Richard’s decision to follow his father Joe and grandfather Henry’s path in becoming his own boss and continuing the family business. However, this time he returned as his own boss with the creation of La Morenita, a branch of La Monita Tortilleria, in 1993.
Sadly, in 1995, his father Joe passed away, leaving his mother Ramona to take over La Monita Tortilleria. Having a close relationship not only as father and son, but also as colleagues, Richard tells me that not only did he lose his father, but his best friend, someone he talked to every day. Joe Garza was missed by his customers who remember his kind spirit and friendliness. Dedicated customers often share personal stories and photos from the past 67 years, such as the photo Richard showed me of his dad, the second-generation owner of La Monita Tortilleria, in what appears to be the late 70s or early 80s.
In 2004 La Morenita, Richard’s spin-off of La Monita Tortilleria, closed due to family issues, but he credits his father, whom he remembers fondly as “strong, an achiever, ambitious,” with bringing him back to the family business. When his mother Ramona retired, Richard took over La Monita Tortilleria as owner and operator, making him the third generation of Garzas to hold the position. Of it, he says, “My Dad’s heart brought me back to the molina.” Today, he and Nadine Garza, his wife and best friend of nearly 23 years, run the business happily together. They’ve built on the success of La Monita Tortilleria and La Morenita and business has doubled.
True to the family legacy, Richard and Nadine’s children, ages 14-20, help on the weekends, the busiest time of the week. Daughter Chanel, only 14, already has a passion for cooking and business and has shown the most interest, like her father and grandfather before her, of taking over the family business, telling her father, “you might be lucky, one day I might want to run this place.”
3202 Guadalupe St, San Antonio, TX 78207 Wed-Fri (7:00 AM-4:00 PM), Sat-Sun (5:30 AM-3:00 PM) 210-432-0332