The Houston Oral History Project is a repository for the stories, accounts, and memories of those who have chosen to share their experiences. The viewpoints expressed in the Houston Oral History Project do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of the City of Houston, the Houston Public Library or any of its officers, agents, employees, or volunteers. The City of Houston and the Houston Public Library make no warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the interviews and expressly disclaim any liability therefore.
The Houston Oral History Project provides unedited versions of all interviews. Some parents may find material objectionable for minors. Parents are encouraged to interact with their children as they use the Houston Oral History Project Web site to complete research and homework activities.
The Houston Public Library retains the literary and publishing rights of its oral histories. No part of the interviews or transcripts may be published without the written permission of the Houston Oral History Project.
Requests for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to:
The Houston Oral History Project.
Houston Public Library
Houston, Texas 77002
The Houston Oral History Project reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to decline to post any account received herein and specifically disclaims any liability for the failure to post an account or for errors or omissions that may occur in posting accounts to the Virtual Archive.
For more information email the Houston Oral History Project at email@example.com.
Interview with: Roy Molina
Interviewed by: Thomas Kreneck
Date: December 12, 1984
Archive Number: OH 320
TK: 00:05 This is a December 12, 1984, oral history interview with Mr. and Mrs. Roy Molina Sr. of 3101 Aberdeen, Houston, Texas. Let’s begin with you, Mr. Molina, and then we’ll just sort of take it as it comes here. When were you born?
RM: I was born in 1909 in Cannel, Texas, Webb County, but we went to Laredo in 1917 when I was about 8 years old. I went to school there in Mexico. I had all my school in Mexico.
TK: In Nuevo Laredo?
RM: In Nuevo Laredo. And then I went to Ciudad Victoria for two years of primary school. They called it normal school. I guess it’s like high school here or junior college.
TK: Why did y’all move from Webb County into Mexico?
RM: I don’t know. We were 10 in the family—5 girls and 5 boys—and my father had property on the Mexican side, so we moved there.
TK: What were y’all doing in Webb County at the time? What was your dad doing?
RM: He was working in a mine. There was a coal mine there right across from Colombia, Nuevo Leon. It’s a ghost town now. It doesn’t exist. There’s another town across the border. It’s about 30 miles west of Laredo. I was too young to remember all that.
TK: But you went to school in Mexico.
RM: Yes, all the school in Mexico. I had typing and bookkeeping. I went to business college for 15 months, and I had my diploma, but when I came to this country I couldn’t use it. I had to go and wash dishes.
TK: What brought you to the United States the second time?
RM: 02:13 During the revolution in Mexico, it was very hard times, and we were 10 in the family. Only my older brother was working and my father, and everybody was coming over here like they’re coming now. But there was depression here at that time.
TK: What year did you—
RM: I came in 1927. I married in ’28.
TK: In 1928 y’all got married.
RM: We got married, yeah.
TK: Did y’all come across at Laredo?
RM: At that time, you used to pay $5. There were no questions asked.
TK: How many in your family came?
RM: Just myself and an older brother, Henry. He died in San Antonio about 10 years ago. He came and he worked in Detroit, Chicago, he went all around working.
TK: So just you and your brother actually came.
RM: That’s the only. The rest of the family stayed in Mexico. I’ve only got two sisters and one brother left.
TK: Was your father employed there at the time when y’all left?
RM: Yes. Yeah. He was working for the railroad. He used to work for the patrol like they have here, the border patrol, but on the Mexican side, keeping contraband from going into Mexico.
TK: So the family lived in Nuevo Laredo.
RM: Yes. They used to be on horseback then at that time.
TK: Was there anyone here in the United States who you knew to come to visit or to come live with or anything?
TK: 04:17 And y’all just decided to come, huh?
RM: Decided to come.
TK: Where did y’all go first?
RM: I worked in San Diego, Texas, and then the pipeline. I worked by the year. We had a 12-inch pipeline from the oil well to near San Diego, Texas. Out in the field we were working. We were about 100 people working. We’d move right along digging ditches and putting this pipeline.
TK: How did you get that job? Did you just go apply for it?
RM: They hired many, many men.
TK: In San Diego?
RM: No. There was an oil well. We started in the oil well, and it ended in San Diego. And from there they moved to Oklahoma, and a lot of us went to Corpus Christi. Some followed the company up to Oklahoma. My brother was here in Houston, and I came to Houston.
TK: Oh, he had gone to Houston.
RM: Yeah, he was here. He was living here in Houston.
TK: What was he doing at the time?
RM: Working as a waiter.
TK: Where was that?
RM: He worked in many places. He spoke English because he went to school on the American side. He was the oldest one.
TK: So he came to Houston first and was working as a waiter here.
TK: 05:48 And that’s when you decided to come, after the company—
RM: Yeah. But at first I didn’t. I didn’t know where I was going.
TK: How old were you when you came to Houston? What year was that?
RM: That was 1927. I was about 17, 18 years old.
TK: And so where did y’all live?
RM: We were living in a rooming house on Milam Street. I think it was 1314 Milam Street. We were about 10 boys from Laredo living there, 2 to 3 in a room, and we were all working in a restaurant. There used to be a Coney Island that used to be on Main. It used to be by the Capital Coffee Company. And then James bought it. I worked for James at Coney Island during the Depression.
TK: What was your first job when you got here?
RM: Just washing dishes at the Ringer Café right behind the furniture store on Fannin.
TK: How did you get that job?
RM: You just applied. There were other Mexican people working and they’d tell you, “We need a dishwasher or a busboy or a cook’s helper.”
MM: Tell him about the spinach.
TK: I do want to hear.
RM: You don’t want to know that.
MM: It was funny.
TK: What was that?
RM: 07:33 I worked at nighttime at a café. They had a French chef and you had to wear a tuxedo and all. So they gave me a job washing pots there. So they throw me a pot of spinach. I had never seen spinach, and I thought it was garbage, so I threw it in the sink. And then I don’t know what made me think that it was too much to throw, so I put it back in the strainer and washed it out. And when they were serving it at lunch, they were sending it back. (interviewer chuckles) I didn’t speak English, but the head waiter talked to the chef, and I don’t know what they were saying. But anyway—
TK: Maybe it had a little soap or something in it. (both laugh)
RM: Yeah. That was really cute.
TK: Did they ever find out about it?
RM: Oh no.
MM: He said, “How could I explain to them?”
RM: No way. I didn’t know enough English.
TK: What did they pay you at that job?
RM: At that time I used to make a dollar a day, 12 hours. There was no day off. If you were late, they’d fire you on the spot. There would be four or five guys there waiting for a job. There was so much unemployment.
TK: Even in ’27 and ’28 it was real hard.
RM: Yeah, even up to ’29.
TK: Real difficult time.
RM: Even up to ’29, ’30. They used to pay $13.50 a week, 12 hours, 7:00 in the morning to 7:00 at night, no day off.
TK: That rooming house that you lived in, was it owned by a Mexican person?
RM: No. They were rented. It was a couple. He used to work as a cook at the Rice Hotel, and his wife kept the rooms and collected the rent.
TK: 09:39 Did any of the boys work at the Rice Hotel who lived there?
RM: He was working as a cook, but we all worked in different places.
TK: Was he an Anglo boy, the man that owned it?
RM: No. He was from Mexico too. His wife was from here, from Texas, but he was from the south of Mexico—I don’t remember what town.
TK: What were the circumstances that y’all met?
RM: I worked at the Snappy Café one block from the post office, downtown on Capitol, and they had a theater on Congress, the first Mexican theater. So I went there and she was selling tickets there at the ticket office, and I thought she was working there. She was one of the owners—her brothers owned the place—and then she came and gave—they used to give you a fan, a hand fan. There was no air conditioning. So she came over and we met with Ms. Caram’s mother. They were together.
MM: Yes, Dorothy and Elaine.
RM: And then we dated. I think we went to the theater.
MM: I couldn’t go out. My brothers were very strict. The only person that I could go out with was Ms. Farrington. He disappeared for a month, and I thought he had gone back, so I said, “Well, it’s okay.” So he came back. He was skinny as a rail. He had been sick.
RM: And then the Snappy Café was owned by Greeks. I most of the time worked for Greek fellows. They’re very nice. Then we eloped to Austin. And then her brothers—
MM: They were looking all over for me. I was the youngest. I had four brothers, and I was the fifth, but I was the youngest of all. My youngest brother was eight years older than I was, and of course they were very strict at that time. So I didn’t enjoy having a good time, like going to dances or anything. The 16th of September was my biggest joy. But of course if I danced a couple of pieces, I knew they would take me home. And so they didn’t even have girlfriends. They just watched me like a hawk. So Elaine was the only one. And of course we eloped and we went to Austin. When we went to Austin, they went to Ms. Farrington and they said, “Do you know where she is?” She said, “No.” She was crying. She said, “No, no. She didn’t tell me anything.” She was 18 and I was 17 at the time. We were very young. We stayed there. I don’t know how many months we stayed in Austin. When we came back, my brothers were angry. They were looking for him, especially the youngest. He was going to shoot him. (all chuckle)
RM: 12:57 I’m lucky to be alive.
MM: Yeah. He was going to shoot him. Then my sisters-in-law—I used to live real close around there, but I never did come when my brothers were there. They didn’t speak to me for over a year after my oldest boy was born.
RM: They didn’t talk to me.
MM: They said, “How is he going to support you?” At that time, you’re too young. You don’t even think. I never thought about how he was going to support me or anything like that. So we just made the best out of it. My mama used to say, “How can you do this?” I said, “I’m very happy.” I was with all my sisters-in-laws. There were three of them. It was not a very happy situation. So finally, they decided to take me to their store and then from there I used to come and work in the store and work in the theater. I worked with them and things kind of changed in a way but not really because they didn’t allow me to go anyplace.
TK: You were the youngest.
MM: And the only girl.
TK: Your brothers in age, what were their names?
MM: My brother Joe was the oldest.
TK: That’s Jose.
MM: Yeah. And my brother Socorro was the second and Felipe was the third and Jesse was the fourth, and he was about eight years older than I was, and I was the youngest.
TK: And they pretty much determined what you did.
MM: Oh yes, yes.
TK: 14:46 Were y’all’s parents here?
MM: No. I’ll tell you what happened. During the revolution they killed my father. So my brother Sam, Socorro—he’s the one that had been here since he was about 13, and he never did go back to Mexico—he got married here and never went back. So he was the one to send for my brother Joe. And I’m not very sure about this, about Joe or Felipe. And Philip my brother was working as a bricklayer. And then my brother, the youngest, when we got the business and everything, he was a playboy. (chuckles)
TK: Mr. Molina, you seem to have been working in cafes and restaurants.
TK: Why did you start working there? Did you always like the business, or did you learn to like it?
RM: That was the easiest thing you could find. Without speaking English, what else could you do? Most of the Mexican people that came would have to use the language. There was very little communication. Now if I had learned English, I could have been in a different job. I could be doing something.
TK: When did you start to pick up English?
RM: About four years. I thought I would go back to Mexico. And when you work in the kitchen, there’s no one to communicate. Usually there’s some other Mexican people. When I was working at the Snappy Café, there was a Greek fellow that spoke Spanish, so I talked to him. I was the only Mexican there, but we could communicate. There was a waitress that used to make the menu every morning, and one morning the typewriter stuck. I told her, “I took typing in Mexico and bookkeeping. Will you let me look at it?” I turned it around and pushed it so the ribbon would come back again. And then they really liked me. I said, “I can write in Spanish 60 words a minute but not English.” They really liked me. When we got married, they sent us a gift. They were very nice.
MM: Yeah. That was Mr. Johnny.
RM: So you see, the language barrier is very hard. I always told all of my help—I used to tell all the Mexican people, “If you’re going to stay in this country, learn English. You will never amount to anything unless you live in the Mexican neighborhood and live in that circle of life. But English is the most important thing.” Even for the American people to—
TK: 18:14 Most of them don’t know how to speak English, unfortunately.
RM: When I went to school, my father told me, “Learn to speak well and arithmetic, because you need numbers all through life, and you need to communicate to express yourself.” I’ve been reading since then. I read every day, constantly. I should have started when I was young so you could lose your accent. It’s hard to—
MM: I don’t think the accent has anything to do with it.
TK: Mrs. Molina, did you go to school here?
MM: I went to school, but when I got married I was 18, so I really didn’t have— I was 17 when I got married. When I was 18 I had my first baby, so I didn’t have too much schooling. And of course then my brothers were so jealous they didn’t let me go to school. They wanted me to work in the store.
TK: They kept you right under their thumb.
RM: Oh yes.
MM: Yes, right. I guess I’m outspoken. I would say that anything that I gained, I owed it to my husband because everything that I wanted when I was young, we both had work and he had given it to me. So I always have told them, “I don’t owe you anything. I owe this to my husband.”
TK: What school did you go to?
MM: I went to Dow School.
TK: What year was that?
MM: Let’s see. I was about eight years old. It’s in Northside. The kids got so bad I went to Dow School.
TK: Where were y’all living when you grew up here?
MM: 20:06 We lived in so many places. At the time I remember, we lived at Canal. And then from there we lived on Center Street.
RM: When I met her, she lived on Center.
MM: We lived on Center pretty long, for the longest time when we had the business and everything.
TK: Okay. This is beginning when you got y’all’s first restaurant.
TK: About what year was this?
RM: Probably ’39, ’40 because we started in business in ’41.
TK: Okay. What did y’all do in Austin when y’all lived in Austin? Let’s start there.
RM: I think I worked on the pipeline. There was a pipeline going by there, and I knew that job, and I worked a few days. But it was cold and muddy. I used to wear boots and riding pants and a jacket like a lumberjack. I think I worked six days or something like that.
MM: We came back, and then he went back to the restaurant. They asked him to work as a waiter. I said, “No. As a waiter you put that jacket on, and I’ve seen the waiters all their life. You don’t want to do that.”
TK: Who had asked him to be a waiter?
RM: Yeah. He was a good friend of ours, very nice fellow.
TK: When did y’all first meet him? Do you remember meeting him?
MM: I had met him since I was a little girl. Him and his wife—of course they weren’t married at that time—used to come on Congress Avenue because that’s where we had the store, and I had known him for years and years and years.
TK: 21:56 He was one of the rising young men around town.
RM: Oh yes. He was the number one.
MM: Yes, he was.
TK: When y’all moved back to Houston, where did y’all live when you moved back?
MM: We came to the boarding house where you lived. We stayed there for a couple of months or something. We lived up in the attic, and it was hot. Oh, my gosh. He used to work at night, and I’d be so afraid. I would hear somebody going up there, and that was a nightmare for me.
TK: Was your family speaking to you at this time when y’all moved back?
MM: No, just my mother. But I never complained. I just took the clothes that I had taken with me, shoes and all. I guess I was very proud, and I never did go back for the rest of my clothes, my shoes, or anything. I lived with what he made.
TK: How about your girlfriends? How did they treat you when you got back? Was it—
MM: Oh yes, yes. They—
TK: Your friends were still—
MM: Oh yes. She is still just like a sister to me. That’s Dorothy Caram. She’s just like a sister to me. And of course Dorothy’s and my boys had grown up together, her kids and my kids.
TK: Okay. So you went back to work at the café.
RM: Yes. And then we moved on Summer Street. We rented a house. It was a grocery store on the corner, and she knew the grocery store business because—
MM: Yes, because my brother had a grocery store and I knew the grocery store. In the summer I can just remember— Of course I was young at that time. Now I think about it, and I say, “I couldn’t do that anymore.” But at that time we had the little grocery store and we had the house in the back. He used to go to work. We lost money because of credit. In a little, bitty store you don’t make money like that. And doing stamps and all, you had to have most everything, and of course people would always take advantage. I used to get up early in the morning, 6:00 or 5:00 for the milkman. The bread man used to come earlier at the time. There were some times that for two weeks I wouldn’t even go down on the sidewalk I was so busy. And on Sundays I used to close the store and I used to clean the refrigerator and the freezer and everything and put everything back and stack the shelves and everything.
TK: 24:28 How did you start your store? Did you have the money to start the store?
MM: We didn’t have— How much did we have? We didn’t have very much, did we?
RM: I think we had saved about $300.
MM: $300. The refrigerator, the meat counter, had a little box that you would put a dollar of quarters.
RM: Four quarters.
MM: And if you didn’t put the quarters in, the thing stopped. My telephone, I used to put a dime every day on the side to pay for the phone.
RM: Even when I started the restaurant, you had to put quarters every night in the refrigerator. You’d listen like that.
TK: Oh, I see. You’d put money in them every day.
MM: Yes, every day. If you didn’t put that—
RM: If you didn’t put four quarters there, it would stop. The food would spoil.
MM: And then it was kind of hard for me. I used to get up. There was a rice mill close to there, and I used to have people that wanted a sandwich, and I used to fix them a sandwich and a pot of coffee. But I needed help. He was working, and for the last couple of weeks I said, “I can’t take it anymore.” I had dizzy spells getting up and working so hard. So we sold the store, and then my brother had the curio store that he had converted to a restaurant. That’s where we started. They lived upstairs and we lived with them for a while.
RM: 25:58 That was on West Gray, 1919.
MM: Next to the bakery.
TK: Where was the store?
RM: 1919 West Gray.
TK: No, the little grocery store.
MM: On Summer.
TK: Where is Summer Street?
RM: Summer Street is on— I think it’s still there. It’s an Italian neighborhood.
TK: Oh, it’s an Italian neighborhood?
TK: Were there any Mexican American people there?
MM: I’m sure they’re around now. I’m sure there are. But at that time there were not very many.
TK: Who were y’all’s patrons at that time? Were they just local people?
MM: Local people that came in. Uh-hunh (affirmative).
RM: She grew up among an Italian neighborhood. We know a lot of Italian people.
TK: So about what time did y’all sell the store and close the store?
RM: In 1941. That’s when we started the restaurant.
MM: 26:57 On West Gray.
TK: So you were actually running the store while Mr. Molina was working.
RM: I used to work at James Coney Island. Then I went to the Tip Top Coney Island just two or three blocks away from there. That’s the most money I ever earned. That was $25 a week.
TK: Big money.
RM: Oh yeah. And then no day off.
MM: The kids when they were small would get a quarter and they would go to the movies. But we couldn’t afford movies or anything. My brother used to invite us for parties, and he was very proud. He said, “No. We can’t afford it because we’d have to invite them. We can’t do that.” But then my brother said, “It’s all right.” We didn’t associate with them because—
TK: How long before y’all started associating with the family?
MM: After we got the restaurant, my oldest brother Joe, he was the oldest of their nephews—my sister-in-law always liked to go shopping and everything, so I used to just stay around and do everything for them. And I kept the family together for the longest time. Even going to the cemetery I used to call everybody and say, “Let’s go to the cemetery.” So finally I got tired. I said, “I can’t do it anymore.” I had my own family and they had their own families.
TK: When did y’all go into the restaurant business?
MM: I think ’41.
TK: And y’all have moved to West Gray.
MM: Yeah, West Gray. That was my brother’s property. That was his store. He owned the place. And so from there we moved to Main Street and met Mr. Reynaga. I don’t know if you remember Mr. Reynaga. He was in Mexico City. So we wanted to buy it, but Mr. Reynaga wanted too much for it. So Mrs. Farrington’s husband and other people from Mexico bought it, but they were there only one year. They couldn’t run it, so we took over. And I’m telling you, we worked so hard on that place. I’ll never forget. We had the city in to put water in and everything. It was just awful.
TK: 29:35 Very difficult.
TK: How long did y’all have the restaurant on West Gray? Y’all converted that little store to a restaurant?
RM: We were there about two years, and then we bought the one on Main.
TK: How was the business on West Gray?
MM: I’ll tell you. It was fine, but they were doing the rations. You had to use stamps for this, stamps for the oil, stamps for everything, and we couldn’t have any. So we didn’t open for lunch; we just opened up for dinner. And we did have a very good cook.
RM: When the Second World War started, you had to have from the government to buy oil, cheese, sugar, and you had to go—on Main Street they had a ration office. I can’t remember what the name of it was. You had to fill up blanks and apply, and you had to serve so many customers in the restaurant, and they allowed you so much oil, so much butter, so much meat.
TK: Very difficult.
MM: It was very difficult, and it was a small place, a very, very small place.
RM: And we just started in business. And then the draft called me. I was just learning English then. We finally increased the amount of meat and oil. Sometimes we had to close at 9:00. There was no food.
TK: Were you drafted?
RM: No. I was drafted, but I never got—
MM: He was but he just happened to—
MM: Of course at that time you had to be an American citizen.
[end of OH 320_01] 31:29
MM: [beginning of OH 320_01] 00:02 They had other business because he—
TK: That was Joe.
MM: Joe. He was the oldest, and he had traveled a lot. He had gone to Spain and gone to Cuba, working for some Spaniards. So he was a brain.
RM: He had a curio store. He bought a lot of curios and jars and all.
MM: From Spain and everything at that time.
TK: This store was on West Gray.
TK: Did they have a restaurant there at all?
MM: No, at that time they didn’t.
TK: I see. It was just a store.
MM: Yeah. Then on Telephone Road we bought a building there, and they built a restaurant when my nephew came from the service. She said that she wanted it for her son. That was fine. He’s always been a very peaceful man. He said, “They can just give me what they want to, and if they don’t, that’s all right with me.” So then his name was on the lease until they sold it. And then from there we had that restaurant. We had about six restaurants at a time.
RM: We had about six restaurants at one time, one on Main, one on West Gray, one on MacGregor, Bissonnet, Stella Lake.
MM: 01:23 And one in San Antonio.
RM: One in Northside on Everington.
TK: Why did y’all move from West Gray to Main Street?
RM: Because they had living quarters upstairs on Main Street, and we were glad to get away from her brother.
MM: Well, they were not very nice living quarters, let’s put it that way. But we didn’t have any money to get anything better.
TK: On Main Street.
MM: On Main Street. And so my youngest boy, that’s when he went to Allen Academy, the youngest. He said, “Mama, I just can’t take it here.” So he went to Allen Academy. That’s George. And then Roy Jr., he had—both of them did.
RM: Then we bought a house on Woodhead. The boys used to go to school there at Lanier School, and we were living on Woodhead.
TK: So when you got the location, what address was the location on Main?
RM: 3916 South Main.
TK: Was it better business than the West Gray?
RM: Oh yes. It was an established place. There was an old family there.
TK: You bought the Reynaga Café and then you—
MM: We didn’t buy the Reynaga. It was his, but Mr. Farrington owned it.
RM: Mr. Farrington, Dorothy’s father, had it and they couldn’t run it. We bought it from Farrington.
TK: Was what its name then?
RM: Mexico City.
TK: 03:01 On Main Street.
RM: On Main Street.
MM: It was a studio building. Then later on we moved further. We had that restaurant, that building over there.
TK: Y’all moved down Main Street?
RM: One block south. There was a beautiful building, a studio building. Have you seen the one across the street, the apartments? Beautiful. The old Spanish architecture.
TK: What was your clientele there on Main Street? Who came to eat there? What type of people? Everybody?
MM: Everybody, and everybody around there, like the stores like Sears and all the places around there.
RM: There used to be a lot of houses in there before the highway came through there. There were a lot of neighborhoods, and then it died out little by little.
TK: Commercialism and—
RM: But we had a good clientele there.
MM: They came from all over. We had people that used to come on vacation that would stop there and they would just say, “We are just on vacation but we had to stop here.” Still on Westheimer we still had people that came from far.
RM: There were only three or four Mexican restaurants. But the American people weren’t too familiar with Mexican food.
MM: At the time. It was very hard.
RM: 04:56 They thought it was too hot or too heavy.
MM: They would only eat it in the wintertime, they’d say. But now they eat it any time.
RM: Now they eat it more in the summer.
MM: They eat a lot of hot food more than we do.
RM: And then little by little we came to meet nice people. We met Mayor Holcombe. He used to come and eat there.
TK: On your Main Street restaurant?
MM: Oh yes.
RM: And Louie Welch. Jose Ferrer came there. He stopped at the Shamrock and came there one night.
TK: When did y’all open Molina’s Restaurant?
RM: We changed the name when we started expanding. We thought nobody knew—it was just Mexico City. They didn’t know who we were, so then we put Molina’s Mexico City Restaurant.
TK: I see. At the same address:
RM: Same address, yes.
TK: Were y’all just on one location on Main?
TK: Y’all stayed in that one location?
RM: Yeah, and then we bought one on Everington, Bissonnet, MacGregor, and the one on Stella Lake. That was carryout food.
TK: 06:14 Why did y’all close the restaurant on Main Street?
RM: We moved to the next corner. That building burned now. Then the South Main Baptist Church bought the building, and they cancelled the lease. It’s still there. We could be there. They haven’t done anything. They bought Travis Street in the back for parking and West Main on the south side, but they use it for the Vietnamese people now. But the building is still standing there.
MM: So we’re both retired now.
TK: When did y’all retire?
RM: In 1979. It’s about five years now.
MM: You might not believe it, but we still have some waiters and we have the same cook on Westheimer that we had all this time.
RM: The chef is still there.
TK: Who was he?
RM: Santos Gonzalez.
TK: How did you meet him?
RM: He was working there as a dishwasher on Main.
MM: We had some very good help. We had Lila, Rosita—
RM: Those were the cooks. He learned the trade. Lila and Rosita got too old, they quit, and we made them buy houses. “Save your money, buy a house.” They bought a house on Northside. Santos Gonzalez also bought a house.
TK: Was the Main Street restaurant more of a moneymaker than on West Gray?
RM: Oh yes.
MM: 07:52 At that time, yes. Not now, because Main Street got the blacks and everything, and at nighttime it was not very safe anymore. It was what we had during the lunch, and then at night it was not very much anymore.
RM: It would die out, the night business.
MM: People got scared.
TK: Were you two responsible for moving out to Westheimer, the big restaurant out on Westheimer?
TK: Y’all put that restaurant out there?
RM: Yes. We have the two boys, and they run one. Roy Jr. used to run the one on Everington and the one on Westheimer.
MM: We have three right now, but one of them, the name is not Molina.
RM: That used to be Bigelow’s where we are on Westheimer.
MM: Yeah, and then we have one further down that is also Molina’s. Then we have one, but the name is not included. They have a partner. It’s on Highway 6.
TK: That’s very far out there.
MM: Yeah. The youngest was running that.
RM: He quit the restaurant and then—
MM: They wouldn’t listen to us. They said they’d never work for it, no part in this at all, and if you can’t make it on your own, you’re not going to make it.
TK: Did anybody ever approach y’all about franchises and things like that?
MM: No, they sure didn’t. Like the relish, we used to make a lot of this relish because we were the only ones and I think we still are the only ones—you have to ask for it now. We went to Mexico City and he saw that relish, so it took a long, long time before we got it patented like it’s supposed to be, and we used to sell them by the boxes, ship them out and everything. We never took them to the stores.
RM: 09:52 We had a trademark. We got a lawyer. We went to Austin. We had a little label with Uncle Sam, but it never—
MM: We sold a lot of it in the place and people knew.
RM: My youngest son quit the restaurant business and he became a real estate man.
TK: Felix Tijerina had a restaurant already on Westheimer—not where he is now. Was there much competition between y’all?
MM: Not at all.
RM: No, not at all. He was number one. The Old Mexican Tavern on West Gray, they had been established for years and years.
TK: Who owned that?
MM: He was a German.
MM: He was a German, but during the war he had to rent it to Dave Casas. They rented it to him because he couldn’t run it because they had him on suspicions.
TK: When did Santa Anita Restaurant— Who—
RM: That was Dave Casas.
TK: He came in in the ‘40s too, right?
MM: 11:29 We could have gotten that place at the time. Remember we went to see it? But it didn’t have any parking and never has had any parking. He sold it already, and I think these other people sold it too to somebody else—I don’t know who.
RM: He’s a very good man, Dave Casas. He’s a good friend.
MM: He’s a hard worker.
RM: He worked like I did. He worked a lot.
TK: So you kind of came up through working your way up from dishwasher to owning a restaurant.
RM: Working and service and catering to people and good food, clean.
TK: Was the restaurant business profitable? Was it good to you?
MM: Oh yes.
RM: Yes, yes.
MM: You see, at the time we were there all kinds of hours because the boys were small then. And we didn’t have any help at all. It was just him and I. And so either he would take a break and I would stay in the place—I used to work from morning till closing time until the boys got a little older. When he got out of school, he used to come and stay in the restaurant until 5:00 till we got back, because I was going back and forth. So really, I never did get to enjoy any house. It was like a hotel, just to sleep in it. It was a lot of work because we didn’t have any help.
TK: Y’all actually lived behind the restaurant there on Main, right?
MM: No, not very long. We lived on Woodhead.
TK: I see. Y’all bought a house in Woodhead?
MM: Yes, and then from there we moved to Bellaire, and then from Bellaire we moved here on Dorrington, back from the Shamrock.
RM: 13:11 At that time the lawyer that got the papers of that house on Woodhead, there was no Mexican, no Latin allowed there.
MM: Yeah. At the time it was discrimination.
RM: He told me, but I think the restriction was already about over.
MM: They didn’t bother us. I can’t complain.
TK: But in the ‘20s and ‘30s there was a great deal of discrimination, wasn’t there?
RM: Oh yes, it was great. Man, you wouldn’t see a Latin around there. I think we were the only ones with the restaurant. Somehow we never got a big break to make big money.
MM: Mr. Prince, he was a very good friend of ours.
RM: Doug Prince, Prince’s Hamburgers. He helped me a lot.
MM: He really did.
RM: On 4th of July we had a full house and ran out of lettuce, tomatoes, and meat, and he said, “Come over to the warehouse on Fannin.”
MM: And he came. He was very nice. They were friends till he died.
RM: We became friends till he died. Very good friend, Doug Prince.
TK: Y’all finally got back together with your brothers after the—
MM: Oh yes. Then my youngest brother had a grocery store, and he used to keep the books for him. And my other brother, he used to bring some shoes from Oaxaca, and he also used to help him because he knew a lot about numbers and everything. But they appreciate him very much now. They think a lot about him. But at the time, they didn’t.
TK: Your brothers were very much businessmen, weren’t they?
MM: 14:59 It was my oldest brother, and then all the brothers were together. Then they got married and everything and started breaking away, like a big family.
TK: Do you remember them opening the Azteca Theatre?
MM: Oh yes. We used to have the best from Mexico City, the movie stars from Mexico City.
TK: How did they bring them in? Did they just contact them?
MM: They just contacted them and they would come at that time. You wouldn’t get those here now—well, I imagine with a lot of money. But at that time Ms. Fabregas, she was one of the tops in Mexico City, we had her. So we had them at the theater.
TK: That theater was opened around 1927, something like that. Or was it earlier?
RM: Yes, because that’s when I met her. Probably ’26, ’27. Then they had a bookstore next year.
MM: Yeah. We had the biggest bookstore around, all kinds of things imported from Spain, from all over, and Mexican herbs and all.
TK: Do you have any regrets over your life?
RM: The only regret that I have is that I should have learned English. I could be something, not a restaurant. I could have done something.
MM: I don’t know. I just like that our sons are very proud of him. They should be, because with him not knowing the language and everything, I think he did beautiful, he really did, and of course hard work.
TK: When did you have your boys? You just have sons?
MM: I have two boys.
TK: When were they born?
MM: 16:50 Roy Jr. is 55 and George is 53.
RM: George is 52. They’re three years apart.
TK: And they both went into the restaurant business?
MM: They both went into the business, but the youngest got out. He said, “I don’t mind working, but this coming in the morning and you never know who’s going to show up, it’s very hard.” It’s very hard.
TK: It is a difficult business.
MM: Very difficult.
RM: They went overseas. Roy Jr. went to France and Germany, and George went to Okinawa.
TK: Before you got married, were you involved in any clubs, Mr. Molina, here in town?
MM: Oh no. We couldn’t afford it. Of course we got involved after we had the restaurant. He was the first president of Los Embajadores de Amistad. We belong to the Mexico Bello. We had a club we called Club 11. It’s 11 couples. He never did like to belong to too many. He was asked, but he said no.
RM: In the restaurant you work 14 hours, 16 hours a day. You have no time for socializing.
MM: But my youngest boy, yes, he belongs to everything under the sun.
TK: Before you got married, were you in any clubs at all, Mrs. Molina, as a young lady?
MM: No. I really didn’t have any that I could say that I remember that I enjoyed. I didn’t.
TK: Your brothers made you work.
MM: Yes, and I’ll tell you, it used to be the streetcars. I’ll never forget. But when I got married, like a lot of people said, “I’m used to this. I never told my husband that. I’m used to this, I’m used to this.” I said, “No.” I just stuck to what he made and we both did and that was it. I never said, “I’m going home,” I never did, like those young girls do now. At that time there used to be streetcars, and on Saturdays they were like any bus—very slow—and I used to come and they used to call home for the time I left. When I got there, boy, everybody was just furious. Honestly, I used to get real upset because if I would have done anything wrong or gone somewhere, it would be fine. But I didn’t. We have a wonderful time now. We go to a lot of dances.
TK: 19:25 How old were you when you left Mexico, Mrs. Molina?
TK: About what year was that?
MM: That was 1916 or ’17.
TK: Was the revolution still on?
MM: Oh yes. They killed my father. My father was a very peaceful man, but he was a country peasant. He used to have a lot of cattle, so he had somebody else from the revolution against him. It was some kind of kinfolk or something. He went over there, he came back and brought some all-gold pieces, and so he paid for them. And he never did come back anymore. And you couldn’t go up there and see him because—
TK: Y’all just never saw him again.
MM: We never saw him again.
TK: Did y’all know for sure that he was killed?
MM: Oh yes. So it took me a long, long, long time after I got married before I went to Mexico. But I lived with that fear to go to Mexico. I was always very, very scared. Of course I never gave up when I was young and growing up. I would look through the Mexican magazines, and I thought I would recognize a name or see my daddy or something. I lived with that for many, many years.
TK: So you came up and you were eight years old, you said. Where did you go to church at first?
MM: 21:07 We went to church—what was the name of the church in Northside? It’s still there.
TK: After y’all were married?
MM: No. After we were married it was St. Joseph. And then of course our parish now, we belong to St. Vincent, but we don’t go there because we got so used to going on account of the business, Holy Rosary, and we still do. Just like today I did have a meeting—I’m not going to make it. Then after church we have a luncheon and we get together with the ladies.
TK: When you were a little girl, where did y’all go to church?
MM: I can’t think. I used to go with the Italians. It’s in Northside. I know the name, but I can’t think of it. They built a new church, but I can’t remember.
TK: What about you, Mr. Molina? Were you very religious when you came to town?
MM: No, he wasn’t.
RM: No time.
MM: They were Catholic by name. I used to go to church. I went with my children for many, many, many years all by myself, and I used to ask the priest, “Why?” And he said, “Just pray for him. He’ll come too.” And he’s more religious now than I am. (all chuckle)
TK: So you didn’t really go to church much when you came to Houston. You worked most of the time.
RM: The family was Catholic. My mother and my sisters went to church, but—
TK: How long did your brother stay here?
RM: Until he died.
TK: Oh. He lived here until he died?
RM: 22:56 He went to San Antonio. He married a girl from San Antonio, a widow from San Antonio, and he died there.
TK: Oh. He went to San Antonio and died.
RM: Yeah. He was living in San Antonio. He died there.
TK: I see. Did you and your brother ever work together?
MM: (chuckles) You couldn’t work with him. No way.
RM: No way. (laughs)
MM: That’s the reason he kept him over there. He was the nicest person until he met this woman. She was older than he was. She wouldn’t let him dress or anything. He used to come and ask for help. He went to San Antonio and he said, “I need some money,” so he sent it. We supported him until he died. He got insurance, and when he died we buried him.
TK: But he never worked with you.
MM: And he was a good worker, but he got to drinking.
TK: None of the rest of your family came from Mexico then.
RM: No. They came to visit me. My older brother was a doctor. He came one time and visited me, and my mother came and we took her to San Jacinto Monument. They came for a visit a couple of days.
TK: Your family then, most of the boys got fairly well educated. You were educated.
RM: Yes. My kid brother works in Laredo, Texas, as a customs broker.
TK: 24:32 I see.
RM: They had more schooling—
TK: Than most people.
RM: Yes. My brother the doctor, he died about 10, 15 years ago. He was 10 years older than I was. We went to school together in Ciudad Victoria. He went to medical school in Mexico City, and I came over here.
TK: Let me ask you this. This is a little bit off the subject, but we were talking about this earlier. You first met Felix Tijerina in the 1920s?
RM: No. She knew him, but I met him after I got married.
MM: I knew him when I was very young. He was already in business and everything, but I was very young.
RM: I think I met him around ’31, ’32 when I was working at James Coney Island, because he had a restaurant on Main, and James Coney Island is on Rose, not very far, and I used to pass by there and talk to him.
TK: He didn’t have that restaurant very long, I don’t think.
RM: On Main Street? No. I don’t know what happened. It never did go. But he was there. He was very nice. And I used to work at James.
TK: Who did you work for? Who were the people that owned James Coney Island?
RM: The same family still owns it.
MM: James Papadakis and Tom Papadakis.
TK: Did you work directly for them?
RM: For them, yes. He didn’t how to write. Tom Papadakis used to address his letters going to Greece.
TK: My goodness. So they still corresponded with people in Greece.
MM: 26:28 Of course Tom and Jim died.
RM: His son is running it now.
MM: He didn’t believe in expanding. He just had that one. It still had the same floor, the same everything.
TK: Both of y’all expanded your restaurants to have seven, you said?
TK: Y’all had six restaurants.
RM: Yeah, but we expanded at the wrong time.
MM: We didn’t have anybody— I mean, they steal you blind. You have to be right there. There were only two of us.
RM: We expanded at the wrong time, when Houston was going west. And all the places we had on this side of town, and the ones on the west side succeeded. Property went up, people moved out after the war.
MM: A lot of these people had black market. My husband told the cook, “I don’t want anything that’s not legal.” I can remember one time Santos bought a tray of huacatays and he said, “Where did you get those?” He said, “I got it real cheap.” He said, “Take them back. I don’t want anything like that. I want to go to sleep, and I don’t want anybody to be knocking on my door. If we make it, we make it; if we don’t, it’s fine.”
TK: But the restaurants on the west side of town made money. Where were the other ones?
RM: On Main and Everington. Everington became a lot of Latins and at nighttime was kind of rough. So my son said, “Dedicate more time to Westheimer.” So we sold the one on Everington. And then on MacGregor, that was a different neighborhood altogether.
RM: 28:21 So we sold that too.
TK: The one on Telephone Road, did y’all keep that one?
RM: My brother-in-law—
MM: He said he wanted it. Out of the blue sky he said he wanted it, and so he said all right. So they had it and they closed it because it didn’t make it.
TK: It just didn’t make money.
RM: No, it never did.
MM: They used to close at 2:00 and come back later. But you can’t do that. You had to be open.
TK: All the time.
RM: It never did go. That place never did. You see, everything moved out this—
TK: To the west side.
RM: To the west side.
TK: Y’all finally gave up that place? Did y’all own that place?
MM: No, no.
TK: You rented that.
MM: We rented them all.
RM: On Main, you mean?
TK: No, on Telephone.
RM: 29:10 On Telephone Road—
MM: Oh yeah, we owned that together with my brother. So they just gave us what we paid for it. Our lawyer said, “It’s worth more.” I said, “That’s okay. I don’t want it.”
TK: What happened to that building?
RM: I think Felix has it.
TK: Oh, that’s the one that Felix got. I see. He bought it from your brother.
TK: I see.
RM: I don’t know what they’re doing now.
MM: We haven’t been in that part of town for many years.
RM: We never go that way, although during the war we used to go on Telephone Road. One garden used to sell me cheese. It was hard to get cheese, oil, meat. Man, we struggled.
TK: During the ‘20s and ‘30s, did the Mexican American community suffer quite a bit? Was there quite a bit of poverty?
MM: Not really. It’s just like right now. The people now get lots more than some of them need. You never know. Of course they have more children and they need, but it looks like it’s never equal. You know what I mean.
RM: But her brother had a chance to buy property, but they never did.
MM: They never did. That’s one thing my older brother never did. He used to say he was going to go back to Mexico.
TK: Did all your brothers think they were going to go back to Mexico?
MM: 30:43 They did.
RM: They never did.
TK: Did they think they might?
MM: My oldest brother was the one that thought he would.
TK: Joe did.
MM: I don’t know why.
TK: Who was the brains of the bunch?
TK: Joe was the brains.
MM: Joe was the brain.
TK: And then which one would be—
[end of OH 320_02] 31:14
TK: [beginning of OH 320_03] 00:07 As I was saying, as a couple y’all did not have that much business dealings through your family.
MM: No. What we had we made, him and I. We worked hard at it, and then with the help of my sons after that.
TK: Were your sons a great help in the business?
MM: They were. Yes, they were. The oldest one and the youngest. Uh-hunh (affirmative), they were.
TK: They have sons that are in the business too.
MM: 00:34 Oh yeah, all of them. The one that runs the one at Highway 6 is Rick. The oldest one is on Westheimer. And then they have one of the young girls working, and the other one on Westheimer is Rosanna and my son. And of course he goes on Fridays and Saturdays. They just want him to go there.
TK: I imagine they do, don’t they?
MM: The people ask for him. He said, “Really, I don’t do anything. I just get tired of standing up around there.”
TK: Do you like to go out to the restaurant?
MM: Oh yes, I think he does.
RM: I’ll go Friday night and Saturday night.
MM: I don’t. I like to go, but as he said, there’s no place to sit down. It’s just so crowded.
TK: The one on Westheimer.
MM: I had surgery about six months ago, and I just don’t feel up to doing too much yet.
TK: Mr. Molina, did you ever want to go back to Mexico? Did you ever think about it when you were a young man?
RM: No. At the beginning when I started work and there were no jobs, but there were no jobs in Mexico either. I had a chance to go back to school, to college. My brother was studying medicine in Mexico City, and he had a job too in the library because the president then used to be the governor of Tamaulipas, so he said, “Come over and we’ll get you back in school, in college.” And I met her and never went back.
MM: That was it.
RM: I had a chance to go back.
MM: I never have. I never have wanted to go to Mexico. I said, “No, I never do,” and still to this day I don’t. I said, “They’d have to push me from one door and come through the other.” I don’t. When I was little, I had memories of nothing but war, war, war.
TK: 02:49 Do you remember the war?
MM: Just like a dream that I do.
TK: Did you ever see the war during the revolution, Mr. Molina?
RM: No. I remember getting under the bed when they were shooting. I was a little kid in Laredo. I think Pancho Villa came by there, but that was on the outskirts of the city. But they started shooting and you’d get under the bed and hide. I was pretty young then.
TK: How did you travel when you came up here, when you came from Laredo?
RM: We came to Laredo, Texas, and we got the job.
MM: How did you get here?
TK: But I mean, did you come in a car?
RM: Just walked across a bridge there.
TK: But how did you get to San Diego, Texas? Did you walk?
RM: They hired us there in Laredo, Texas, and they would pick us up in trucks and take us to the camp. The camp would be out in the woods in the country.
TK: So in other words, through a hiring agency.
RM: Yes, yes. And they had tents, about 50 people in each tent, and they had a cook, a commissary. They’d give us good food, very nice.
TK: Even though it was just tents, huh?
RM: It was good food. You’d get in line with your plate and get in the tent. We used to do about a mile a day of that pipeline, and they’d move the camp ahead.
TK: And you came straight from there to Houston, right?
RM: 04:36 From San Diego we came to Corpus Christi, and then there were two friends of mine. I said, “My brother lives in Houston. Let’s go to Houston.” So we came over here. They went back to Mexico. They didn’t like it. No, one stayed. He went to California. But the other one was the son of a publisher in Laredo that had a newspaper, so he went back. A lot of boys at that time would come just for excitement. Some of them were wealthy people. I knew some that went to Detroit because it was paying $5 a day working at Ford. But they were sons of well-to-do people at that time.
TK: When you went to Corpus Christi, were you there working with the pipeline company?
RM: No. They moved to Oklahoma, so they paid us all. I think we stayed one night there, and then we came over here to Houston.
TK: Y’all just stayed one night in Corpus.
RM: That’s right.
TK: Did you come by train to Houston?
RM: No, bus. I didn’t know where to catch the train.
TK: I can imagine.
RM: But Houston was great. Now Houston with the crime and smog and the traffic— But we still love Houston. Houston is a good town. It’s not what it used to be 20 years ago.
MM: I don’t think any place is like it used to be.
RM: Twenty years ago it was—
TK: And y’all have been living at this address for how long now?
RM: About 13 years.
MM: Thirteen, 14 years. We lived in Dorrington about five houses in the back of the Shamrock.
RM: 06:37 We were there 15 years.
MM: But it got commercial.
RM: Sanders used to live right across the street, Marvin Sanders’s father or brother.
TK: Did you teach your children to speak Spanish?
MM: Yes. The oldest one had a problem about speaking English when he went to school, but the youngest, his language was English to him. He didn’t know how to speak Spanish. Of course he does now. Roy Jr, his English is perfect now, but he’s the one that had a little hard time when he was young.
TK: Where did they go to school?
MM: Oh gosh, they went to—what was the name of the school on Northside? I don’t remember. Then they went to Lanier and they went to St. Thomas and finished at St. Thomas.
RM: Then they went to Texas University.
TK: When your boys were growing up, did you ever see them encounter discrimination?
MM: No, I didn’t. I’ve always been very fortunate. My youngest is real light, and Roy Jr.—I don’t know if you ever met him—he’s the same complexion as I am. I’m starting to think of the name of the school where he used to go. It was walking distance from the house. He was very shy. He’s the one that was shy, the oldest one. So I used to go there at lunchtime just to watch and see if they were discriminating. But they weren’t. I couldn’t say they were because they weren’t.
TK: I wanted to ask you this question too. When y’all started out your first restaurant on West Gray, who cooked?
RM: We had a boy from San Antonio. What was his name?
MM: He was a very, very good cook. That’s one thing: I never did go in the kitchen.
TK: You never handled the kitchen.
MM: 09:02 I never did. He never let me. He never let me associate with the help in the back, so I sat in the front. He said, “You’re more help to me in the front than you would be in the back. They will do the work.” We had very good help, we really did, but I never did go back in the kitchen.
RM: We had a good cook from San Antonio. And then we had another helper that used to work in a Mexican restaurant. Remember George? George somebody.
MM: He’s got a restaurant.
TK: Were you a chef at all?
RM: No, no. I don’t even know how to cook. I still don’t know how to cook. I was a front man. I greeted people. But I taste food; I know food.
MM: We knew. We knew Mexican food. I used to go back and taste and I would come and tell him.
RM: I never learned how to cook, although I worked in a restaurant all the time.
MM: My boys do.
TK: Were mainly the people that y’all had there on West Gray Anglo people?
RM: The customers? All of them.
MM: Oh yes, all of them.
RM: One hundred percent.
TK: What would have been the difference? This is very subjective, but what would have been the difference in running a restaurant and cooking for mainly Mexican American people and then, say, cooking for Anglo people? Do you have to prepare the food different or not?
MM: No. The Mexican people, they’re a lot of trouble, even the people that used to come from Mexico. They want this, they want that. You tell them in the menu. They say, “You have soup?” We say, “We don’t have it.” They ask, “You have this?” and it’s not there. And they’re real bossy and they want to be served. And the American people are very patient and are very nice.
RM: 10:58 They’re easy.
TK: They’re easier.
RM: They know what to do, they know how to behave. During the boom, people come here from Mexico and they say, “Do you have shrimp?” “No.” “Fried chicken?” “No.” “Chicken soup?” “No.” I said, “This is just Mexican food for the American people.” I wouldn’t like it. Even when we were on Everington, the reason we sold it is because it became too many Latin and at night they’d drink, and we were used to just the American trade. And since I just worked in American restaurants, that’s all I knew how to work, with American customers. I was a good front man.
TK: You were the front man. What did Mrs. Molina do?
RM: She was at the cash register.
RM: And show the menus and show them in. Of course I checked the cooks and I checked the food.
TK: Did you have waiters at the beginning?
RM: I waited for a little while. I had two waiters. Then when the business picked up, I took my jacket off. I had to improve my English when I started waiting on customers and talking to them. I started reading at night.
MM: We always kept busy. I took ceramic, I took painting, I did crocheting.
TK: When y’all moved from West Gray to Main Street, did y’all increase the staff quite a bit? Did you expand?
RM: Oh yes.
MM: 12:50 Oh yes. It was very hard. I’ll tell you the reason why, because all the people that had worked for Mr. Reynaga, there was old people that used to be there. And of course he was very young, so they didn’t have too much respect for him at first. Of course he had time to convince them. So they weren’t the nicest. After a couple of months, though, they were very, very nice.
TK: Oh. Y’all retained the same people.
RM: We kept the same people. Santos was there.
MM: Yes. They all heard and said, “Everybody is going to quit on you.” I said, “Well, there’s nothing we can do.” But they didn’t. They were there for years and years and years with us. They were very nice.
TK: Who was Mr. Reynaga? Who was he?
MM: He was from Monterrey. He had a bakery on Preston when we had the store.
RM: No, Congress, next to the Azteca Theatre.
MM: Oh yeah. He was right on the corner. He had a restaurant and a bakery.
TK: Did he have money?
MM: He was a very strange person. He had two sons and two daughters, but the sons were not very good. They spent all his money, and he didn’t have such good help with his sons. The girls, one of them helped him and the other one, I don’t know what happened to her.
RM: Tony the son was very nice.
MM: Yeah. He died.
RM: When he sold the restaurant, he went to Monterrey and bought about 10,000 orange trees. Mr. Reynaga retired there. We went to visit him in Monterrey. He was very nice to us and was very proud that we were still running his restaurant that he started. You see, he started on Congress with the Mexican trade, and then he came to Main with the American trade.
TK: 14:49 Was there more money to be made with the American trade?
RM: More money, yeah, and less trouble with the American people.
TK: They just come and eat.
RM: They come and eat and go on, and Mexican people want to drink and want to make love to the waitress and they want to date. (chuckles)
TK: Did you know Leo Reynosa?
RM: Yes. That’s another good man. He is a good man.
TK: He put his restaurant there in 1948?
RM: Yeah. We almost bought that place. We were on West Gray, and Leo is here on Shepherd, and they offered it to us. And you know, I should have got it. I realize now all the mistakes that I made. I had a chance to have that. Leo is a good man, very nice. He is a very good friend. We don’t see each other because in this business it’s just we have no time for socializing. But he’s a very good man. If you want to run a restaurant, you have to stay right there, take care of your waiters, your business. You have to deal with the help, with the customers, and with the buyers, the vendors.
TK: When you went to Main Street, did you have to borrow money? Did you borrow money to expand?
RM: No, no, no, no. Things were cheaper then. Now it takes $100,000 to open. At that time you could open up a restaurant with $5. The milk companies where you get the icebox or the Coca-Cola would give you a refrigerator or iceboxes.
TK: When y’all started out, did you have alcoholic beverages—beer and things like that?
RM: No. We didn’t have it until later. Yes, yes. I got beer. There was no liquor; there was beer. And Roy Hofheinz gave me the first beer license. I got it from him at the courthouse.
TK: 17:05 In the ‘50s, huh?
RM: Yeah. I had it out there the other day. I was cleaning my file, and the signature was Roy Hofheinz. They used to help you out then. I bought a $50 steam table secondhand from Gerber’s Restaurant Supply. Nowadays a steam table will cost you $5,000. We sold that little grocery store on Summer. We had $600. We put quarters on the ice machine and the refrigerator. I bought a steam table for $50. The man knew me. He was Gerber, the old man.
MM: He was very nice. He let us go— The first trip we had after 15 years—we had never been anyplace—we went to California. Boy, that was the biggest thrill in our lives.
RM: After 16 years of being married.
MM: So we went to California, and we had a good time. And then we went to the Gerbers. We visited his home. And in Acapulco he had a condominium, and so he said, “If you want to go, you can go any time.” So I took his two oldest with us. We took them always with us. It was just like a magazine. It was just beautiful with the maid. We had a maid who used to cook breakfast and dinner, no lunch. We hired a taxi, and he would come and pick us up every morning and take us around Acapulco.
RM: What a change of life from—
MM: Yeah, from working.
TK: So y’all didn’t travel much when you were starting out.
MM: No. Of course we have now. We’ve been to New York, San Francisco, we’ve been to—
RM: Mexico City.
MM: Mexico City and Oaxaca. He was the president of Embajadores, so we traveled all over Mexico. Now we do.
TK: But not when you started out.
MM: No, no.
RM: 19:30 No. And the boys were—
MM: No. We couldn’t afford it. They laugh now. I couldn’t afford a cup of coffee if I had to go in there. We couldn’t. We just worked. He was working and I was keeping house. I didn’t miss it. If you want to make a good marriage, I think you live with what your husband makes. At that time he was making $25. With this $25 we’d pay our rent, our grocery bill, and some dresses. Sometimes I’d say, “It’s time for you to buy me some shoes.” One time the kids needed some shoes, and he said, “We’ll buy you some.” I said, “I’m home. We don’t go out. So what is the difference?”
RM: But you know, hamburger meat was 10 cents a pound, American cheese was 18 cents a pound. It was according to the standard of living.
TK: It just didn’t cost as much in those days to live.
TK: What did you charge for a plate of food when you first started out?
RM: It was 35 cents, 45 cents. We used to serve a filet mignon with French fried potatoes for 45 cents. And ketchup. (laughs)
MM: We used to get people over there that used all the ketchup.
RM: And then the highest dinner we had was 65 cents or 85 cents. Enchiladas were 30 cents. I think now they’re $2.60, $3.60. A bowl of chili was 15 cents, a cup of coffee 10 cents or a nickel. You can’t believe it. The help, you’d pay them $15 a week.
TK: So you were in just a few organizations after you got going.
RM: I didn’t have the time, and I didn’t have— An organization had to have a purpose. If you don’t have a purpose— Most of them were with dancing, just meeting, and I didn’t have the time to—
TK: 21:59 Did you ever get involved in LULAC?
MM: No, we never did.
RM: Never had time for political things. Making a living was the main thing and raising the family, so we never had the time for luxuries but more of a family life. Dignity more than luxuries. There was no money for luxuries.
TK: Dignity more than luxury.
RM: That’s right. We’ve been very fortunate. The boys are very good boys. Now George has become a judge in Fort Bend County, my younger son, and Roy is running the restaurant.
TK: Y’all have Roy Jr. and George, right?
TK: Were they named after—well, Roy Jr., but what about George?
MM: George, no, he wasn’t. Your sister, I think she had a boyfriend whose name was George.
RM: Robert George was his real name.
MM: So we had George, we had Robert George, and then my oldest brother didn’t have any boys, and my brother said, “I don’t have any boys. Why don’t you name one of your sons George? I’m never going to get any boys.” So he did. And so they named one of their youngest Robert George. So there are three.
RM: We all have names with R and M or M and M.
MM: Yes. We all have all Rs and all Ms.
RM: Roy Molina, George Molina, Mary Molina, Margie Molina. Every name is RM or MM.
TK: 24:21 I have no further questions, and I don’t want to keep you any longer. I think we’ve stayed enough. I appreciate it.
RM: Remembering is—
TK: See, you remembered a lot more than you thought you would.
RM: Yes. I was telling my wife, “What are we going to say? Our life is not that interesting.”
MM: But I think it is. To us it has been.
RM: To us it has been—
MM: We had our 50th anniversary already.
TK: Y’all were very successful too.
MM: I think we have. My sons are very proud. I tell him, “We’re very proud of you.”
RM: You know what a man said who had been married 40 years? The advice he gave, he said, “No matter how your wife treats you, you should always try to look a little hurt.” (all chuckle)
TK: That’s very good.
RM: Psychiatrists say that when a man starts getting married, in the first years the man bosses. But as the years go by, little by little the wife takes over. And I noticed with the oldest couples, usually the woman does. The man becomes fickle and weak and childish.
MM: I don’t know. Just like I told my sons, I said, “We could be very wealthy if I would only be one of these nagging wives, because we had a lot of opportunities to buy property.” I said, “It’s not important to me. Happiness means more than that.” We probably would have been at each other’s throats. We always had peace.
RM: The psychiatrists always say that to stay married you should talk to your wife at least five minutes a day. (all laugh)
TK: 26:26 Were y’all in Mexico Bello?
RM: Yes. We belong to it.
TK: When did y’all first join? Do you remember?
RM: About 20 years ago, at least 20 years.
TK: Did you like the organization?
MM: Yes. Really truly, we never make their meetings. It’s just like everything else: one, two, three from the club. You’ve always got the same. Why go over there? They ignore you, you talk, and they don’t hear you. So he said, “Let them run it the way they want to.” We just go to the dances and enjoy ourselves.
RM: We have granddaughters that were in the quinceaneras.
MM: Rosanna became the queen for the girls.
MM: No. Princess.
RM: She was number two or number three.
TK: May I ask you this? This is kind of a personal question. What were y’all politically? What party did y’all support during your—
RM: This year we’re both Reagan Republican.
TK: What about before?
RM: 27:50 Before, we went for Kennedy.
MM: We’ve been Democrat most all of our lives.
RM: But we just vote for the man. The man is the thing. Sometimes the party—
MM: Yeah. Bush is the best customer in the restaurant.
TK: Oh, he is? George Bush?
MM: George Bush. He comes there.
RM: He was there Tuesday night. The night of the election he was there with motorcyclers, bodyguards. They stopped the traffic, like a movie star. He comes there a lot.
TK: Here on Westheimer?
MM: Before he went to Washington.
TK: Did they have to move all the people out of the restaurant?
RM: Never. Nobody knows that he’s coming. We only know. The Secret Service men call my son and say, “We’re going to come.” One Secret Service goes to the bar, the kitchen, another couple sit down next to him.
MM: They come and check first before he comes in.
RM: There’s one guy in the front with a machine gun and a cover-up. It looks like a briefcase, but it’s a machine gun. They usually send two women—one black, one Latin—to the front. But he’s so nice.
MM: He’s very nice.
RM: 29:14 He asked me the last time, he said, “How’s your golf game?” because I play a lot of golf. And I said, “Up and down.” And he asked my son. George Bush is very nice.
TK: Do y’all put him in a different room of the restaurant?
MM: Whatever he wants.
RM: Wherever he sits down. He doesn’t dress up.
TK: Does Mrs. Bush come?
MM: Oh yes.
RM: Barbara, yes.
MM: They ask her in Dallas, they ask what she’s going to do in Houston. She says, “I’m going to the Molina’s.” (chuckles)
RM: It was in the Dallas newspaper. They said, “What is your favorite Mexican restaurant?”
MM: Another time Bush was coming from the airport and they said, “Are you going home right now?” He said, “No. I’m going to go straight to the Molina’s.”
RM: We’ve had good things and bad things, like everything.
MM: And his son is married to a Mexican girl. They have two kids. They’ve been there at the restaurant. They live here, and Mr. Bush used to live here too. They used to go quite often.
RM: Life is continuous self-improvement. You always have to improve to be. They say, “Where is the secret of life?” And they say one angel told God, “It’s in the top of the mountain.” The other said, “No. It’s in the bottom of the ocean.” And God said, “No. It’s in the man. It’s in you. The secret of life is within yourself.”
[end of OH 320_03] 31:12
RM: [beginning of OH 320_04] 00:03 …all the position in the world. If I couldn’t read, if I had no books to read, I would give it up. I think that’s very nice. The books that helped me most were Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People—I took the course, 13 weeks, when we bought the restaurant on Main Street—and then the Bible, the Proverbs, and then another book that helped me was Schopenhauer all the seven books of Schopenhauer. They’re very good. You learn to judge people and get along with people.
TK: You took the Dale Carnegie course.
RM: Yes, I did. I was the only Latin there, and I didn’t know anything, but I guess they liked me. Somehow I made a good impression.
TK: What about the Schopenhauer books? You read all of Schopenhauer?
RM: Seven books. I copied a lot of his sayings on 3x5 cards, and I kept them in my pocket and read them. The Dale Carnegie rules I also kept them so I remember and so I can use them every day. It’s like money in your pocket, the Dale Carnegie. They teach you how to deal with people and with your enemies.
TK: Did you keep up with your Spanish reading?
RM: Oh yes. I bought Schopenhauer in Spanish. I read The Egyptian by Waltari, and now I’ve got it in Spanish and I’m reading it in Spanish. It’s beautiful in Spanish. In English too. A lot of the phrases, the advice he gives, it looks like it comes from the Bible. You ought to read it. A doctor recommended it to me, and it’s beautiful. I have a lot of sayings that I copied. I have a lot of scrapbooks. I copied a lot of things that you ponder on. Man doesn’t know why he does what he does, why he behaves like he behaves. He never knows. As long as we live we know. It may be destiny somehow. But those books are really beautiful. Schopenhauer says when you’re dealing with people don’t talk too wise because they will resent you that you’re smarter. Try to be simple, humble.
TK: Mr. Molina, I really appreciate y’all’s time this morning. I really appreciate it. I think we’ve done a good tape. I hope that sometime I can call on y’all again.
RM: Any time.
MM: Sure. any time.
RM: Maybe we’ll be better.
TK: No. Y’all did marvelously. It’s just that after you go an hour and a half, it gets kind of tiring.
[end of OH 320_04] 04:02