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Sisters apply passion for Hispanic culture (video)

By JR Ortega
Oct. 14, 2013 at 5:14 a.m.

Susan Martinez, 52, of Victoria, reads tickets as she helps Carlota Hinojosa, left, to make enchilada plates in the kitchen at Ventura's Tamales in Victoria. Martinez runs the restaurant with her sister, Martha Vasquez. "We really love what we do," Martinez said.

Editor's Note: This is the last story in a series of ongoing features celebrating Hispanic culture during Hispanic Heritage Month, which ends Tuesday.

It's the calm before the storm.

Chairs and tables stand equidistant from one another - in an almost perfect line - waiting for the rush of hungry Ventura's Tamales customers ready to break for their workweek lunch hour.

It's a scene that has unfolded every morning for the past 28 years, and it's a scene sisters and owners Susan Martinez, 52, and Martha Vasquez, 51, never tire of.

"That's Mom," Martinez said, looking back at a portrait of their mother, Ventura L. Gutierrez. "That was the one behind the magic."

Their mother died in December, but her presence and hand in the small business' success are evident every day, the sisters say.

The idea started in the mid-1980s, when their mother began making and selling tamales out of a neighborhood gas station on North Street.

From what the sisters remember, their mom's side business was reported to the state, even though she passed food inspections and had a permit to sell.

That report would change the family's life forever.

Gutierrez and Vasquez wanted to keep the small business alive; they rented a building on Water Street and began selling tamales from there.

Food and family - that's what growing up in a Hispanic family was like for the sisters.

"We've really had a loyal clientele that has followed us," Vasquez said.

Some of the clientele followed them from the gas station to Water Street, but during the family's 12-year stint at Water Street, they realized selling only tamales could not keep the business alive.

So the family began cooking what they knew - household Hispanic entrees that many grow up eating - like carne guisada, rice, beans and enchiladas.

As the menu grew, so did the business.

The family realized its Water Street location was not enough anymore, so they moved to Rio Grande Street to a slightly bigger location. Another 12 years was spent there, until the opportunity to move to Navarro Street came up.

To the sisters, Navarro was the tip-top cream of the crop, and their mom, though not fully involved toward the end of her life, thought so, too.

"She would come in and tell us what we were doing wrong," Martinez said, laughing through tears.

On Friday, the business celebrated its fourth anniversary at the Navarro location.

"To be on Navarro is very demanding," she said. "We like to be hands-on, but with the growth, it's hard to give personal attention."

Wanda Herrera-Boyd, 61, has been eating at Ventura's for more than 10 years, including the time when the restaurant was on Rio Grande.

Herrera-Boyd enjoys the atmosphere and said it's great to see how big the restaurant has become.

"The food is absolutely wonderful," she said as she waited for her enchiladas. "They really know their business, and you never lack for anything."

For Herrera-Boyd, restaurants like Ventura's help keep the Hispanic culture alive.

Whenever Herrera-Boyd's husband travels out of state, he picks up dozens of tamales and teaches others about their importance.

"I think it's important to educate those who are not familiar," she said.

For the sisters, they just want to keep their mother's tradition of family, food and friends alive.

"It's not a job," Vasquez said. "It's a lifestyle."



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