HEBBRONVILLE — The talk at the table this week is all about one family who's made a huge contribution to their community and has done so in many ways while continuing to do so today. But if you ask them, it’s just part of being a good neighbor.
Just an hour north of the Mexican border is Hebbronville, the only city in Jim Hogg county. And in the downtown area, there’s what visitors might call a great bakery in the middle of nowhere but the family-owned business is much more than just a bakery. Their main products are tortillas and tamales from scratch five days a week, in addition to all the sweets in their panaderia.
As we know so well, the tortilla is a South Texas tradition and a staple of our everyday lives which is traced back thousands of years to the people of the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico.
About an hour north of Mexico, you’ll find Patricia Gonzalez and her crew mass-producing tortillas and tamales at her state-of-the-art facility at Hillcrest Tortillas.
“These are the 50 pounds of flour,” Gonzalez tells us as she takes us through a tour of the facility.
From the flour to the 60-quart mixers and then, “we use this hopper and we just start throwing the masa in here and this machine here can produce 6,000 dough balls an hour,” she shows us as part of the production process.
That’s when the mix goes into these two industrial sized machines and once they’re cooked, they last for 3 days.
"Because I feel that if we would’ve put preservatives in our tortillas, we would be like everybody else and I wanted to stand out,” Gonzalez emphasizes because her tortillas stay fresh for 3 days.
And stand out they do. They have a 150-mile delivery radius. They also ship tortillas to schools in Jim Hogg and neighboring counties and also sent out special orders throughout the country.
When Patricia and her husband look back today, she’s reminded about her the two had no no idea what they had stumbled on to years before.
“It was just like one package after another and I told my husband, could we be onto something as simple as flour, water?” she remembers saying to her husband.
They definitely were onto something. But this labor of love didn’t just happen overnight. In fact, growing up, Patricia didn’t have it easy.
"I tell everybody that my parents struggled with all of us and we pretty much were poor but nobody told us we were poor,” she remembers.
Later in life, Patricia married her husband whose parents owned Hillcrest Grocery and Market which is just down the street and open since 1965.
"They acquired a small mom and pop store and we have kept it open,” Patricia says about her in-laws and how the grocery store also remains a part of the community.
Not only keeping it open but it’s where their tortilla making came to life.
“We started producing the tortillas out of the back of Hillside Grocery,” Patricia remembers. “That was back in 2001.” And when asked if she ever imagined how things have changed since then, her answer, “Never.”
It’s a big change of pace for Patricia who dedicated more than 25 years of her life as a teacher and administrator for Jim Hogg ISD until she retired and started making tortillas, tamales, and desserts full- time.
Looking back at her days at school compared to her business today, “right now these days for the past eight years, I tell everybody that I’m more tired than retired because it’s a lot of work owning a business,” Patricia says as she laughs.
The South Texan mother, teacher, and now a business owner who continues to give back.
"I’d like to say we provide jobs to some people in our community and we provide very good products,” she tells us.
And don’t forget about those sweet products for anyone who’s in the mood for dessert.
“We are kind of like a Mexican bakery that has all the pan dulce like conchas and regalitos but we also offer a lot of pastries,” she says.
But at the end of the day, Patricia tells us it's about her family, her employees, and her community that makes the hard-work worth it.
“All in a day’s work,” she says. “It can be really hustle and bustle but you know, it’s all good.
If you're interested in learning more about Hillcrest Tortiallas, Tamales, and Bakery, you can head to their website at: https://www.loc8nearme.com/texas/hebbronville/hillcrest-tortillas/2496751/
And that marks 12 editions of Table Talk in 12 counties here in the Coastal Bend in the last 3 months.
But that doesn’t mean we’re stopping there. We’ll be back on the road looking for some good food and even better conversation.
So where should we go next to find some good food and even better conversation? You can interact with me on my social media pages (see below.)
And of course, you can always send me an email at email@example.com