tortilla and tamale factory
Manuel's first business in Odessa. 1948.

Manuel E. Gonzalez, Jr was born in san Antonio, Texas Jun 28, 1917. His mother owned and operated a small downtown cafe. His father had the first mobile hamburger stand in San Antonio. During the depression they lost all of their savings and were forced to start all over in Del Rio, Texas.

It was in Del Rio that Manuel first had his own tortilla route that he would run every day. His high school coaches would help him make deliveries so he could practice with the team. He was a four year letterman in football, basketball and baseball.

Manuel came to Odessa in 1946 not by happenstance but by choice. He had worked as a water truck driver for the state of Texas when they were building the Crane highway. He like the people he met and was challenged by the idea of starting his own business in Odessa in an area where Mexican food was not that well known.

The Odessa Tortilla and Tamale Factory opened in 1946. At the same time Manuel began cooking other items for customers. He had four tables in a waiting area where customers often "scuffled just to get the chance to set down." By 1953 he began building the infrastructure to what is now Manuel's Restaurant. He went from a seating capacity of 12 to over 500 people in less than 10 years.

Manuel gave much back to the community. He was on the Board of Directors of the National Bank of Odessa, Odessa Boy's Club, State Board of the Texas Restaurant Association, Restaurateur of the year in 1967, and appointee of Gov. Preston Smith to the State Park Board.

He always said that his "family was living the American dream in Odessa. It doesn't come easy, but if you work hard enough and treat people fairly, you will always be able to hold your head up."

Manuel E. Gonzales, Jr. died on July 22, 1980. He left his wife Rufina V. Gonzales and the three children, Bertha A, Manuel III, Sam, and seven grand children.

Courtesy: The Flavor Of Odessa, 1891-1991; editor:Ann Sherburn.
The Heritage of Odessa Foundation.

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Updated: May 29, 1998