Mi Tierra Café and Bakery
Pete and Cruz Cortez founded a small café in 1941 with only three tables. Originally established to feed farmers and workers, the small eatery in San Antonio, has grown to a large, landmark operation. Mi Tierra Café and Bakery (MTC) is a local favorite, known for the family’s embrace of rich culture and food. Pete passed away in 1984, leaving the business to his three sons who have carried on the Cortez legacy.
“Our father came from Mexico during the Great Depression,” says David Cortez, Pete and Cruz’s son and vice president of MTC. “He has worked as a mechanic there, but started working for his aunt and uncle in a butcher shop. There he learned how you buy and process meat and make deliveries. In 1941, he bought a three-table restaurant in the marketplace, sourcing meat from the butcher shop where he had worked.”
As the business grew, Pete developed an affinity for the area. In 1961, he bought the entire block surrounding his café in order to expand and invest in the space. A year later, the city attempted to purchase the property and tear it down. In order to protect the market’s history and local culture, Pete got into politics – first as an activist, but his involvement grew over the years. After saving the block from destruction, he became involved in cultural and political affairs, eventually serving the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and other organizations established to support local businesses and immigrants.
A local legend
Pete’s sons grew up in the business and David says he started working at MTC at the age of 10. Now, the brothers oversee a staff ranging from 575 to 625 people. “We have a great team,” David explains. “We are very selective, which makes our pool a bit smaller, but we have a very friendly, hospitable staff. Many of our employees have worked with us for more than 30 years.”
The company has grown to include three related businesses, all on the same block. MTC operates the Mi Tierra Café, as well as the Mariachi Bar and Panaderia, the large bakery. With the café open 24 hours a day, customers can enjoy food around the clock. The bar offers classic cocktails and beverages for a night cap. In the morning, the Panaderia is the perfect spot to pick up coffee and traditional Mexican panes dulces, a type of sweetbread.
The café offers an enormous menu, serving breakfast all day, as well as lunch and dinner. The menu follows a Tex-Mex theme, featuring dishes inspired by local flavor and cultural traditions. The breakfast selection includes omelets, huevos rancheros, as well as typical American diner food. Lunch and dinner consist of tacos, enchiladas, soups and more. “Our menu does not change very frequently,” David notes, “But we have a great variety.”
Adapting to a changing market
With less expendable income throughout the recession, many consumers cut back on extraneous expenses, especially going out to eat. “The downturn was a challenge, but we have been pretty fortunate,” David explains. “There is a lot more business in our part of the country because of the oil industry. We also have visitors, though more than 70 percent of our business is from locals. We are in a bit of a bubble here.”
To keep people coming in while maintaining the company’s personality, David and his brothers have kept a strong focus on culture. “Our business is food, but it is also about experience,” he elaborates. “Tourists will come by on a walking tour and see our restaurant and they want to come back for dinner. We are surrounded by artwork and murals. Musicians are all over the neighborhood and we often invite them in, a tradition started by our father. We get lots of letters from our guests and while they love our food, the hospitality, service and experience is what they remember.”
As MTC approaches 75 years in business, the Cortez brothers are always looking at new ways to improve. “We do have a property about 18 miles away from here with almost 10 acres,” David notes. “The biggest challenge is finding employees. We can definitely see the demand in the area for our restaurant, but we have to be careful about our growth. Our brand is very valuable to us, so we are taking it slowly. We have also been thinking about opening a smaller taco place, which we think has great potential. We haven’t set anything in stone yet.”
The company continues to grow and throughout the years, David and his brothers have maintained a passion for the family business. “There is something new every day in this industry,” he laughs. “We love that our clientele is very diverse. Whether we have a family of tourists or a billionaire celebrity, we serve all of our guests the same way. We have people who return year after year. We are in the business of memories.” With strong family values and vibrant cultural atmosphere, Mi Tierra Café and Bakery continues a tradition of good food and good times.