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Co Lo nne ca ct l B in us g Y in ou es s N Wit ew h s Volume II, Issue 10

www.valleybusinessreport.com

June 2011

Local Businesses Bring Dreams to Life

W

eddings bring familes together. They also bring together a family of bridalrelated businesses. See page 5


June 2011 • Valley Business Report 3

Reducing Re-admission Rate Holds Down Health Costs at Valley Baptist Through patient education and promotion of follow-up care, Valley Baptist Medical Centers in Harlingen and in Brownsville have reduced hospital re-admission rates for patients with a variety of heart, lung and liver diseases. The successful drive to cut unnecessary readmissions and hold down health costs resulted in both Valley Baptist hospitals receiving Achievement Awards from the TMF Health Quality Institute. “The goal is to keep these patients stabilized in the community, rather than having them come back to the Emergency Room or be re-admitted to the hospital,� said Pam Warner, Administrative Director for Medical Staff Services and Quality Improvement for Valley Baptist. The Cameron County medical centers were selected to participate in the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Care

Transitions Project, which seeks to reduce and eliminate unnecessary re-admissions to hospitals. The Valley project aimed to transition patients back into the community, by working with physicians, home health agencies, outpatient clinics, skilled nursing facilities, rehabilitation centers, and other health care providers. Studies show that patients who are able to see a doctor within five to seven days after their discharge are more likely to stay out of the hospital. The patients had been admitted for heart failure, end-stage renal disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart attack and pneumonia. Under the program, Valley Baptist-Harlingen was able to reduce its re-admission rate by 4.2 percent from 2008 to 2010, while Valley Baptist-Brownsville reduced its re-admission rate by 2.8 percent. The reductions exceed the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid

Services goal of reducing re-admissions by at least two percent (based on the number of patients who are not re-admitted to the hospital within 30 days after their discharge). Valley Baptist focused on identifying highrisk patients, improving patient education, and reviewing the discharge instructions which are given to patients before they leave the hospital. Patients are made aware of lowcost medication programs they may be eligible for, which can help increase the chance patients will get the medications prescribed by their doctor once they are discharged from the hospital. Valley Baptist and other participating hospitals are also working with home health agencies to increase home visits to patients, to teach them how to better manage their condition in the home, rather than come back to the hospital.


4 Valley Business Report • June 2011 Contents News Brief . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Bring on the Brides . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Real Estate Q & A. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Life After Work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 South Padre Special Section . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 Edna Posada’s Work Acumen. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Authentic Downtown Brownsville . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Water Gardens . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 Deli, Family Style . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Say Cheese. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 Got Your Goat. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22

Cover photo provided by Rebecca Rivera Photography, Mission Texas www.rebeccariveraphotography.com

Valley Business Report Staff Editor Eileen Mattei eileen@valleybusinessreport.com General Manager Todd Breland todd@valleybusinessreport.com Marketing Consultant Cori Thomas cori@valleybusinessreport.com Production Art Director Sharon Campbell sharon@valleybusinessreport.com Editor, VBR e-Brief Angey Murray angey@valleybusinessreport.com Philosophy We are a pro-business publication providing in-depth perspectives on business trends and creating a forum in which business leaders can exchange ideas and information affecting the local community’s economy. Letters to the Editor Letters of 300 words or less should be e-mailed to editorial@valleybusinessreport.com with the subject line: Letter to the Editor. Please include your full name and city of residence. © 2011 Valley Business Report is published by VBR Media, L.L.C. Office: 956-310-8953 • P.O. Box 2332 Mission, Texas 78573


June 2011 • Valley Business Report 5

Bring on the Brides By Eileen Mattei Inside the Social Situations shop in Harlingen, Susana Rosser of Edinburgh-based All Party Rentals and Brenda Guerra of Special Flowers in McAllen are preparing to meet a client coming from Brownsville to plan an event for 900 people. Most weddings that Rosser supplies with table linens, draping and canopies average 300 guests. A few years ago, Guerra transformed her business into a wedding floral specialist supplying fresh flowers for rehearsal dinner, church, reception, along with boutonnieres, corsages and bouquets. Wedding coordinator Clara Loera owns Social Situations, a one-stop shop where selected wedding suppliers from across the Valley meet their potential and contracted clients. While weddings bring families together, it takes an extended family of businesses to actually pull off the event. Besides wedding gowns and wedding rings, the Valley’s wedding industry supports wedding coordinators, caterers, bands and deejays, wedding

cake bakers, bridal registries, videographers and photographers, ice carvers, tuxedo rentals, invitation engravers, reception locales and much more. At Social Situations, Clara Loera makes it easy for bridesto-be to take advantage of her ensemble of wedding-related vendors. “This allows the couple to arrange it all in one place. I used to offer packages, but I’ve found that every event is different. It’s a matter of sitting down and understanding what point they are at.” As the wedding coordinator, Loera takes the stress out of pulling the countless details together. “Every event has little glitches, but that’s why they have a coordinator on site. I’m the problem solver, the go-to person.” The only thing that she has no control over is the weather. Loera’s work begins months before the wedding

Brenda Guerra and Susana Rosser prepare to meet a client at Social Situations. (Mattei)

when she opens lines of communication with the vendors contracted by the bridal couple. Wedding coordination is all about logistics, making sure that


6 Valley Business Report • June 2011 all will go smoothly on the day of the event. “Keeping a good rapport with local vendors is how you get your name spread,” she said. She recommends vendors she has worked with, from venues Puesta del Sol and Los Ebanos to invitation printers, caterers, photographers and even bridal gown shops. “The majority walking in the door are really young couples in their early 20s,” Loera said. But she has catered to couples in their 70s as well. “It was really cute. They wanted a wedding coordinator and the whole nine yards.” Rental vendor Rosser leases a Social Situations space, filled with table linen samples in a spectrum of colors, where she advises brides on color combinations. Rosser often has three to five events scheduled on a weekend. She has 15 full time employees who deliver and arrange the linens and then retrieve and clean them. The logistics, again, are monumental. Florist Guerra said most of weddings she supplies have coordinators and are booked up to a year ahead. She noted that some weddings have spent over $10,000 on flowers. The favorite bridal flower of the moment is hydrangea. CaTeRIng TO The faMIly “I didn’t realize there were so many details you

had to make decisions on. Sometime it’s easier with fewer choices,” said Robin Farris, mother of a June bride. A coordinator will be on hand the day of the event to keep things organized and people on schedule, so Farris can enjoy the celebration. “When a bride uses a wedding coordinator, it makes our job easier. About half do,” said Lisa Wray of Wray and Company/Catering by Design. “I have noticed the wedding industry in the Valley has really boomed in the last 15 years.” Wray takes an active part in the informal wedding specialists’ network. “We all stay pretty well connected. A lot of us are on Facebook so we know what everybody's doing and share our great successes.” The average wedding they cater has gotten a little smaller with 150 to 175 guests in the past two years, Wray said. “Still it takes a whole army behind the scenes to put it together: chef, support people, runners, bussers. On a seated dinner, I try to have a ratio of one waiter to 10 people. For a buffet, it’s

Photo provided by Anahai Navarro Photography. one waiter to 16 people.” Wray said 75 percent of their business comes through referrals or the Valley Wedding pages. The full service catering company will provide table linens, rentals and florals if requested. Otherwise the caterers coordinate with the other vendors, matching their presentations with the wedding colors and flowers. The RadIanT BRIde Casa de Novia is not your grandmother’s bridal store, although it was once owner America


June 2011 • Valley Business Report 7 and at the Inn at Chachalaca Bend. Rehearsal dinners onboard a sunset cruise in the Laguna Madre are popular. Among the caterers she recommends are Feldman’s Market Center, City Café and Wray and Company. She has worked with numerous florists including Hewlett-White and Special Flowers. She recommends photographers such as Rafael Sepulveda and Jimmy Hollis and videographer John Areola of Five Star Productions. The wedding network Wray mentioned is important to business success. CaPTuRIng MeMORIeS

Gonzalez’s grandmother’s bridal store. Weddings gowns shimmering with satin, lace, pearls and beading create a wonderland of dreams-come-true amid a swirl of veils and wedding accessories. Gonzalez recently moved to a much larger storefront in Harlingen with spacious dressing rooms that do justice to her bridal and quinceanera gowns. In the next few months, she will open the store’s balcony area as a bridal suite, where she and her staff can see brides-to-be and their entourages by appointment. “We’ll be able to have more time with them in privacy.” Tuxedo rentals are available for the groom and groomsmen. Event planner Pat Blum of Simply Divine Events emphasized that it takes large amounts of time to plan the details of a wedding. “Some of my most wonderful experiences have been my brides. You really get to know them, and a friendship develops,” said Blum, who is now concentrating more on corporate events. Blum listed some of the most popular upper Valley reception venues: Quinta Mazatlan, McAllen Country Club, Cimarron, IMAS, Museum of South Texas History and the McAllen Convention Center. She has coordinated weddings on a golf course, on the beach at South Padre Island

Photo provided by Rebecca Rivera Photography, see her work at www.rebeccariveraphotography.com

Rebecca Rivera Photography of Mission typically has weddings booked about eight months in advance. “Once they’ve book me, we plan about three months out to do an engagement session,” Rivera said. That allows her to get to know the bride and groom and make them comfortable in front of the camera. She takes either studio shots or goes to a location that is meaningful to the couple. Formal photos on the wedding day work out only if there is a gap between the ceremony and re-

ception. Otherwise, Rivera photographs for 30 minutes immediately after the wedding, taking the most important, posed family photographs. At the reception, she takes multiple candid shots and a few posed ones. “It all depends what they told you they wanted.” Even with digital, it takes approximately three weeks to put together a gallery album. “The brides who are relaxed and happy end up enjoying their day the most,” said Rivera, who has done weddings for sisters. “It’s so much more fun because you know the family already. They know your work and like working with you.” Rivera in turns refers her clients to videographer Rene Cano whom she has worked with frequently. One thing available only online is wedding insurance. It covers host liquor liability, loss of wedding venue and the unfortunate event cancellation. Nevertheless, weddings wonderfully conjure up visions of happily ever after. It takes just a bride and a groom and a village worth of wedding suppliers to turn the wedding day into a beautiful, memorable event.


8 Valley Business Report • June 2011

Real Estate Question & Answer Dale Davis has been in real estate for 30 years and heads Davis Equity Realty which specializes in commercial property leasing, sales and property management. He talked with Valley Business Report’s editor about the challenges and opportunities in office, retail and industrial real estate. Q Where is the most activity in the Valley’s real estate market? a Both retail and industrial properties are improving. They have been very slow for the last three years, but over the last six months I have seen been signs of improvement in retail stores, retail services and some industrial distribution. Q What are the preferred locations? a I think it’s a broad stroke through the Valley. McAllen-Edinburg seems to have the most active corridor. Harlingen is picking up, and we’ve had some pretty good signs of leasing activity in Weslaco. Brownsville has been a little slow to come back. It was significantly over-retailed, so it has a ways to go.

Q How is the real estate market when comparing leasing and purchasing activity? a Leasing is a little more progressive because landlords are providing tenant finish. Right now, it is more convenient to go find existing lease space and put pressure on the landlords. Banks are still slow to provide capital for businesses that want to expand and buy. We’re seeing a little bit of positive lending, but the terms aren’t good. The banks are reluctant to take risks, although some of that is federal lending policy. It is difficult for them to fit within certain lending ratios, and the only way to get around that is to ask drastic amounts for down payments. Most businesses are not capitalized enough to put 30 to 40 percent down. When the banks are able to loan money at a point that people can afford, there will be changes.

Dale Davis, a Valley realtor. (Mattei)

Q Have Mexican buyers influenced the local mar-

capital, and a lot of that capital has been invested in land. We’ve also seen quite a few families that have come over and invested in order to help get their visas. That’s a very real increase to our economy.

a There have been residential acquisitions by Mexican nationals. There’s been a positive influx of capital from Mexicans trying to find a safe harbor. We’ve assisted quite a bit in finding places to put that

Q How is Valley real estate doing when compared to the rest of Texas? a The Valley is doing well. It almost mirrors central Texas and San Antonio which are relatively

ket?


June 2011 • Valley Business Report 9 healthy markets compared to the rest of Texas on job rates and space absorption. The Valley is divided into four pockets. The McAllen MSA has less than a 10 percent vacancy rate on its true retail (Class A) space. Weslaco has less than an eight percent vacancy rate. Brownsville and Harlingen have in excess of 12 percent average vacancy rate. The market gets a little healthier when the rate is below five percent. Right now there are enough buildings with vacant space to absorb demand for the next couple years. We don’t see new speculative projects starting for the next few years, except for isolated build-to-suit projects for national retailers. We’ll see a real conservative approach from banks. Every retail corridor has enough vacancy to last a while. The Valley does have a better (space) absorption than in Dallas or Houston. Nationally, Class A vacancies are 12 to 15 percent. Q What effect has the economy had on property management? a The economy is driven by a lack of bank capital and the refusal of banks to refinance. That has forced the banks to recapture those properties. The banks turn to third-party, property management companies like ours to reduce their exposure to commercial real estate.

Q How does today’s market compare to earlier eras? a Between 1986 to 1989, there was a similar recession and a lack of capital that caused some of the same problems we have now. As terrible as that was, it was not as elongated as this one is. Q If you had money to invest in real estate, where would it go? a There is a trend now to invest in single tenant and small multi-tenant retail properties, both freestanding restaurants and small Class A strip malls. These are diversified so your risk is spread. And their sales volume is still doing well in spite of the economy. If the tenant is doing well, the rent will be paid. Another area of excellent investment in the Valley is vacant commercial land. Some properties have been devalued and are at the bottom of the price well. In the next wave, we’ll see that people who acquire financing will get land. That has started now. Q What is the outlook ? a What typically occurs when capital markets open up again is that people start buying property and opening businesses. That is starting to happen. We’ll

see if we have the land and properties to meet the demand. That demand has been almost frozen for three years. Well-located commercial land in the next year will start seeing activity as capital and financing become available. People will need freestanding buildings to operate their new fast food franchises. After a recession, those are usually the first to move in and were seeing it already. McAllen is healthy; it will see a resurgence. There are plenty of places to come in and raze old buildings. Brownsville is taking good measures with its historic ordinances (that waive all city fees for restoration and redevelopment of historic buildings.) In Harlingen, BassPro Shops entering the market will substantiate the location. You will see national retailers enter with the market with confidence. Q What would help pick up the pace of recovery here? a Cities should adopt efficient procedures that allow new businesses to move through the permitting process expeditiously. Instead of setting up barriers, they should find ways to help new business get up and running. You would see a lot quicker recovery here.


10 Valley Business Report • June 2011

Life After Work: Bill Burns on His Encore Career in Wine Cellars By Eileen Mattei For Bill Burns, the man who was the CEO of Rio Grande Regional Hospital for 16 years, retirement is all about having fun. “That’s the major criteria: I’m in it as long as it’s fun. I’m a volunteer, and I can walk away. Life after work is a wonderful time.” Although Burns and his wife retired to Fredericksburg in 2005, he still returns regularly to the Valley as a private consultant providing healthcare management solutions. That is, he returns whenever he’s not immersed in his full-schedule of avocations and pastimes. On many Saturdays and Sundays, Burns can be found guiding tours at the Grape Creek Winery. He takes groups to the barrel-lined cellar, pours wine and talks them through wine tastings. This avocation started when Burns volunteered to help during Fredericksburg’s October Wine and Food Festival. The winery manager asked him to help with the Christmas

wine trail and then, approving of Burns’ approach to the winery-visiting public, the winery offered Burns a part-time job at “slightly over minimum wage.” Burns is not embarrassed at earning a token salary: “I have really enjoyed learning more about wine. I’ve met some of the most interesting people,” he said. Winery visitors have included friends and former employees from the McAllen medical community. “Bill? Is that you?” Yet Burns, 68, is far from being a wine snob. “If a bottle of wine ages more than 30 days in my house, it’s because I’ve been out of town.” When Burns’ wife Charlie Randal began volunteering at Lyndon Baines Johnson State Park and Historic Site, he decided to get involved too. Burns began taking part in the living history demonstrations at the Sauer-Beckmann Farmstead which reenacts life in the early 1900s on a Texas homestead. Once a week, he shows up to butcher a hog, make the sausage, milk the cows, mend fences or bob sheep tails. He

gives tours of the facility describing aspects of life on a 1915 farm for busloads of second and third graders. He has been known to hold up a slate board and identify it as a flat screen monitor for a 1915 computer. “I have a lot of fun, but the staff gives me him a hard time. My tours last longer than anyone else’s,”


June 2011 • Valley Business Report 11 he said. The Wounded Warriors program has captured his interest, heart and grant-writing skills. Twice a year, the Fredericksburg group treats recuperating military men and women to a day out: shopping tours, lunch and a show at Rockbox Theater, Texas’ number one attraction according to TripAdvisor.com. Fredericksburg recently wrapped up its first nature festival. Burns facilitated that by bringing in McAllen CVB director Nancy Millar, an eco-tourism expert. “I think anybody who retires form a position like I had can never really stop,” Burns said. “You have learned so much along the way that can be shared. All too often us old timers have something we can add. But younger people don’t often give us the opportunity to share.” Yet he interacts with second graders at the historical park, with young wounded warriors, and in the past he has played Santa Claus at McAllen Country Club and dressed up as the Easter Seals bunny and worn a kilt for Scottish Day. In McAllen, Burns had led Rio Grande Regional Hospital’s $80 million expansion and renovation that started in 2002. Today, he primarily consults with his former hospital, although he has been interim director of Harlingen Medical Center and consulted with other

Hidalgo County hospitals. “Now I have an opinion and you’re entitled to pay for it.” Burns said he was fortunate while he lived in McAllen. “The beauty of this community when I came was that it allowed me to be part of something that was changing. The community was open for new ideas and concepts. The competition was fierce, but it was above board. I miss the people terribly.” Burns won the respect of the medical community and the larger community. He was named McAllen Man of the Year in 1989 and was selected as the Easter Seals’ Humanitarian of the Year in 2005. Lucile Hendricks asked him to do her eulogy. As a member of Rotary for 35 years, Burns had always side-stepped serving as an officer and in the international program. In Fredericksburg he is now the president-elect of Rotary and has headed the Exchange student program which he called a wonderful experience. Plus, he delivers eggs from his wife’s chickens. Burns has never lost his love for telling stories, and he has a new favorite audience. “I get to be Grandpa to the most beautiful young lady in the world.” He pulled out a photo of his fourth grader granddaughter and talked of the times they chill wa-

termelon in the creek and spit seeds at the fish. Burns has set a few limits in his retirement. “You can be consumed before you know it. I won’t be on the hospital board (in Fredericksburg.) I stay away from health care on purpose. Somethings just wouldn’t be fun.”


12 Valley Business Report • June 2011

Summertime on South Padre


June 2011 • Valley Business Report 13

Island, Where Fun is Endless


14 Valley Business Report • June 2011

Posada Built Her Business on Service and Hard Work By Rebecca Sweat Local business entrepreneur Edna Posada, owner of Spa La Posada, was honored April 29 with the 2011 Area Women in Business Champion of the Year Award presented by the U.S. Small Business Administration. The honor recognized Posada as an individual who has selflessly fulfilled a commitment to support women entrepreneurship and advanced the interest and improved the conditions for women small business owners through hard work, innovative ideas and service to the community. "Edna Posada is one of the most deserving Women in Business Champions ever,” said Sylvia Zamponi, District Director for the U.S. SBA Lower Rio Grande Valley. “She has championed the needs of women for many years sharing her experiences and wisdom with the many that admire her successes and welcome her advice. Edna has become a mentor to many who identify with her and appreciate her openness with ‘tips of the trade.’”

Posada, a Rio Grande Valley native, opened her first store, a Merle Norman Cosmetic Studio in 1989, located in McAllen. Since then, her business has flourished, and she has become a role model for business women in South Texas. To help further other women in business, she regularly speaks at high school and chamber of commerce events, and in 2002, Posada cofounded the RGV Dress for Success chapter. However, Posada originally had another path planned for her career. After earning a degree in computer programming, Posada dreamed of traveling the world training businesses in software systems, and she interviewed for a position with Hewlett-Packard. Although she aced the interview, she was told that she needed sales experience, which led her to a position selling cosmetics at the Estee Lauder counter in Dillard’s department store. “When I was selling Estee Lauder, I realized how much money women spend on make-up. It really got me thinking, and at the time, there was a Merle Norman

store for sale,” Posada said. “It had been in the back of mind, and I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do. I thought everything happens for a reason. Yes, I have my degree in computer programming. They wanted me to get sales experience. I landed with Estee Lauder, and within two weeks, they made me the counter manager. I thought when this Merle Norman came up for sale, ‘why don’t I just do this for myself?’” Following the success of Posada’s first Merle Norman location in McAllen, she opened a second location in Harlingen in 1993, and a third store in Brownsville in 1998. Although the three Merle Norman locations were a success, Posada wanted the ability to offer a more diverse collection of products. Thus, the creation of Spa La Posada. “Expanding into a spa was a natural progression. The hardest part in having your own business is having a customer base. Once you have a customer base and they are asking for other things, give it to them,” Posada said. “Women were already coming here. Well, let me give them something else so that they don’t have to run all over town.” In 2006, Spa La Posada again expanded its services, adding a full boutique that offers shoes, clothes and accessories. Posada said that strategically she had a vision of what she wanted, and that as opportunities arose, she had to make a decision to have controlled growth. “You have to look at, number one, are you going to be profitable? You don’t want to expand just to expand. You need to have controlled growth where you’re going to have the right people in place. You’re going to grow your people, and there is only so much growth you can do if you’re going to stay profitable,” Posada said. Posada credits much of her success to common sense and research. She said that before any idea is brought to fruition she completes at least four months of


June 2011 • Valley Business Report research before she makes a decision. “You have to minimize the amount of loss you can take and give yourself X number of months to grow. Then decide if it’s not working, what you’re going to do to back off and transition,” Posada said. To keep Spa La Posada successful and growing, Posada focuses on three areas: customer service, marketing and offering quality products. Most importantly, she believes that customer service training is an on-going process, not just a topic covered during orientation. Each morning, Posada begins her day reading at least 45 minutes. She studies trade magazines to learn about the latest trends, services and products. She also attends classes and workshops through the local chambers of commerce and national conventions. In addition to continuous education, Posada attributes her success to her work ethic, the fact that she treats people fairly and stays focused. “For any woman looking to start her own business, I would say go work for somebody in whatever business you are wanting to do so that you can learn on their dime and not on yours,” Posada said. For more information about Edna Posada or Spa La Posada, visit www.SpaLaPosada.com or call (956) 687-7544.


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RGV Downtowns—Brownsville’s Authentic Sense of Place By Eileen Mattei Other than San Antonio, no other city in Texas can claim as many historic buildings as Brownsville does, according to Historic Downtown District Director Pete Goodman. Founded in 1848, the river port soon sprouted New Orleans-style buildings with high ceilings, elongated windows and balconies with lacy ironwork. Once used as general stores, many buildings from the earliest eras are still standing: the Cueto, Alonso, Fernandez, Pacheco and the Miller Webb. Over 100 historic buildings are spread across 28 blocks of downtown Brownsville. Brownsville’s actions in restoring historic buildings and repurposing them for profitable use have gained the city statewide accolades. In May, Brownsville received the 2011 First Lady’s Texas Treasures Award, presented by the Texas Historic Commission. Brownsville was chosen because it demonstrated “a high level and creativity and ingenuity in identifying

and preserving their authentic senses of place” through collaborative efforts. Brownsville’s downtown retailers have weathered boom and bust cycles of the cross border trade which has sustained the old city’s heart for decades. The older buildings, which once housed doctors, lawyers, and insurance agencies, had their facades modernized in the 1950s and 1960s. The combination of time, parking spaces and the quest for the next new thing reduced the old buildings to serving ground-floor retailers that appealed to small wholesalers walking across from Matamoros. Upper floors were abandoned for the most part. When Imagine Brownsville developed a strategy for the entire city, downtown improvement ranked high on the to-do list. Then Brownsville took a major step to revitalize its downtown and recycle its heritage buildings. Now the first restored buildings’ owners have tenants and leases. The catalyst for this revival - the turning point that

is making it easier to invest in historic old buildings is a new city ordinance passed by a supportive Brownsville City Commission with the active cooperation of organizations such as Brownsville Community Improvement Corp., Brownsville Historical Association and the University of Texas-Brownsville, said Pete Goodman, Historic Downtown District Director. The city put some skin into the game by reducing the financial burden incurred by people seeking to rehabilitate the city’s old buildings and any approved buildings in a newly designated Adams Street entertainment district - new or old. The ordinance waived all permitting fees associated with the restoration of historic and Adams Street buildings: certificate of occupancy, planning and zoning, building permits, parking, health and fire. Old buildings must have their historic façade restored but owners can do as they please with the interior, other than limitations on certain types of undesirable businesses. More people are beginning to appreciate just what a treasure they have in Brownsville’s old buildings like


June 2011 • Valley Business Report 17 the 1859 Miller-Web weathered brick building near Gateway Bridge, according to Joe Gavito, Brownsville Heritage Officer. Mark Clark opened Galleria 409 in the 13th Street building after retiring from the Smithsonian. The art gallery, which is opposite the city’s oldest building, the 1848 Gem occupied by Roser Customs Service, is the nexus of the city’s new Art Walk. It’s true - the slowing economy has impacted the pace of rehabilitation of old buildings, an expensive and time-consuming process. “Current owners are deciding if they have the wherewithal and the interest,” to transform their buildings, according to Joe Gavito, who is seeing more owner interest. “What we found, surprisingly enough, is that most of the investors in downtown have come from out of town.” They frequently came from cities with strong historic preservation cultures, such as Charleston or Boston. Now they have been joined by natives who moved away to cities that valued their historic buildings and have since returned to Brownsville. “All of a sudden people who hadn’t invested in real estate woke up,” Goodman continued. They saw the potential for making good on an investment in an old building with fee waivers linked to restoring the exterior to its historic appearance. In recent months, eight buildings that had been on the market have sold or have contracts. “What’s happening now is Brownsville people are forming investment partnerships and buying buildings they have always liked.” One partnership has purchased three buildings so far while another has bought four and has bids on others. “You need somebody who has the love of old buildings and is able to bleed money,” said Goodman. Yet professional firms are beginning to consider downtown and to sign leases for office space located near city and county offices. For example, the three-story Ballock Building, built in 1911 and once downtown’s premier department store, has been restored to its glory days of arched upper windows and a molding of cherubs. The 6,000 square feet on the second floor includes fluted Grecian columns. Brownsville’s Heritage Plan has been in place for 25 years, a collaboration of five taxing entities. Neighborhoods have asked for historic designation, willing to accept restrictions in exchange for maintaining the area’s historic importance and also raising its property values. “There are parts of different downtowns that we like. We’re not trying to copy McAllen or Weslaco,” said Goodman, who led revitalization efforts in Weslaco. The entertainment district along Adams Street from Ninth to International Boulevard is already emerging. “Adams Street has the most buildings that work for that thing.” One younger owner, preparing to open a nightclub in June, is talking about buying the adjacent

Pete Goodman and Joe Gavito, left, accepted the First Lady's Texas Treasures Award from Texas Historical Commission's assistant director Terry Colley and Director Mark Wolfe at the historic Alonso Building. (Mattei) building for a coffee shop. Coffee shops, brew pubs, music venues, restaurants, wine bars, boutiques and performance halls are anticipated in the Adams Street mix. A few of downtown’s newest stores, like Ross, have a contemporary mindset that differs from the prevailing retailers’ outlook. During Charro Days, when the streets are flooded with people, Ross has stayed

open while the older stores closed and lost considerable sales. The Texas Treasures Award included a professionally produced 13-minute video of Brownsville’s history, its historic buildings and the community members who worked to restore them. “Come talk to us a year from now,” Pete Goodman said. “We’ll be able to show you the progress we’ve made.”


18 Valley Business Report • June 2011

Water Gardens Temper Summer’s Heat By Eileen Mattei To ease the weariness brought on by a hot and dry summer, add the sound of cool trickling water. “It’s good for the soul to have water flowing,” said Paul Crerar, owner of Mid-Valley Garden & Pond Supplies. “A miniature aquatic environment in a backyard or at front entry way adds beauty and tranquility.” Water gardens and water features have been a specialty for the last 15 years at the Weslaco nursery located on Business 83. “We’ve made it our niche,” said Crerar. “Landscaping tends to peak in the spring and slow down in the summer.” That’s when the water garden business booms, and the entertainment and the cooling values of water seem the most appealing. Mid-Valley’s sample ponds and examples of water tricklers, spouters and fountains are effective sales tools. Crerar, a certified nursery professional, emphasized that a water garden is still a garden, and, like the dirt variety, it has to be nurtured. “I encourage people to do some research first because they have decisions to make.” He recommends they purchase and read the $12 book “How to build a pond.” The book introduces them to a

few rules about siting and maintaining ponds that will bring near sure-fire success. “Water gardens are best sited in full sun because your plants are healthier,” Crerar advised. And people mistakenly believe that crystal clear water is good water, but it means there are no organic invertebrates and phytoplankton that benefit fish and pond plants. Water gardens here catch the eye with frog figurines spouting thin streams and water flowing slowly down rock shelves in filtered shade to a shallow pond where a few brightly colored fish are sunning and swimming. Crerar starts people off with what he calls teaser ponds. These small water features hold less than 500 gallons and only a few fish and water plants. “It helps people decide whether it’s what they want to do,” he said. “As soon as you put water into a yard, all the wildlife and birds will show up. In two days, you are going to see kiskadees, green jays, doves, grackles, hummingbirds and birds you’ve never seen there before,” he said. People get intrigued by the wildlife that begins to visit their yard drawn by the water. Crerar does on-site calls to look at the best place to place the water garden. Then Mid-Valley designs the

water garden, digs the pond and connects its water supply, installs a soft vinyl liner, stocks the pond and landscapes its surroundings. Still no two ponds are alike. Each is a unique living environment that can be stocked with water lilies, variegated irises, submerged and top water grasses, dwarf cattails and papyrus. Add fantail goldfish shubunkins, and koi and you have a true oasis. While a percentage of Crerar’s customers are content with their starter pond, for others that teaser triggers a desire to go beyond the basics in size and complexity. “I tell people they should devote 15 minutes a week to the pond. You get what you put into it them; it is a garden,” Crerar said. Statistics show that a water garden takes as much but no more water to maintain than the same area planted with typical grass. Water recirculating pumps control the flow and volume used. Pumps need to be sized to the water volume. Some pumps are more energy efficient than others. Different types of filters protect the pumps and reduce clogging. “Of course anytime you connect water and electricity, you have a potential problem,” he added. Mid-Valley techs apply their knowledge and experience to solve customers’ problems. Crerar is proud that the company has long-time customers, who come from as far as Corpus Christi, Monterrey and Falfurrias to stock up and get advice. “We continue to answer the phone and solve problems.” They sell liner in five, ten and fifteen and twenty foot widths for do- it-yourselfers. Mid-Valley offers pond management and weekly and monthly pond maintenance services. “We also do pond cleaning and we are the only ones in the Valley who do that.” The crew drains the pond, removes everything, reworks the lilies which clump, patch or replace the vinyl liner and add new plants. Like the old cake mixes said: just add water. The summer yard becomes instantly more inviting to people and to wildlife. www.midvalley-gardenandpond.com


June 2011 • Valley Business Report 19

Deli, Family Style By Laurens Genuchi Your nose knows you have crossed into the New York Deli from the tantalizing aromas of warm pastrami and sauerkraut, fresh cole slaw and potato salad and chili from a treasured recipe. The name New York Deli defines not only the food but the mission of this chain of three restaurants located in Brownsville, Harlingen and McAllen. In the beginning, founder Fred Rendon, Sr., arrived in Brownsville from Bakersfield, California, to be closer to his in-laws in Matamoros, Mexico. Rendon had retired from a career in the food service business but, according to his son, Gilbert Rendon, Sr., the elder Rendon was retired for less than a year before he decided to open his own delicatessen in 1982. After Fred Rendon opened Fred’s Deli, he had to convince his customers to try some of the well known deli sandwiches like a Reuben, a cheese steak, knockwurst and liverwurst. “We had to carry things like hamburgers and fries,” Rendon said, just to feed the reluctant customers. The family patiently educated its customers in the fine points of classic delicatessen cuisine. It took time, but Rendon said they finally won over their audience, many of whom still covet the deli classics. Cole slaw was another tough dish to have customers sample, but made from Fred Rendon’s original recipes, the slaw, the potato salad and chili have all become deli mainstays. Gilbert Rendon, Sr., took over operation of the Brownsville deli with one of his brothers, Dennis, until Dennis retired from the business. In the meantime, Rendon and his family opened two new New York Delis – one in Harlingen in 2000 and the latest in McAllen in 2004. The three offer the same menu, ambiance and friendly service. The Harlingen deli is operated by Mrs. Christine Rendon and son John. The McAllen deli, the busiest of the locations, is overseen by son Gilbert, Jr. Expansion may not be complete because Gilbert Rendon, Sr., would like to add a fourth New York Deli – in San Antonio. But this remains in the planning stages for now because it would require a substantial family commitment to open and operate. Family business is what the Rendons enjoy best. Gilbert, Sr., said with family operating all the delis, consistency in business philosophy helps keep every location functioning smoothly despite the different locations. Rendon himself returned to Brownsville after a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps to help his father, Fred, establish and run Fred’s Deli. Each of the locations features high quality deli meats, excellent service and a friendly, family atmosphere. At any time during the day in Brownsville you could find teachers, local politicians, construction workers, winter visitors, families of all ages occupying tables. During political seasons, politicians swarm like

locusts through the Brownsville location because of its wide cross section of patrons and “work the room” in search of votes. The New York Deli reflects Rendon’s love of music from the Fab Four from Liverpool, the Beatles. The walls are covered in Beatles memorabilia while a display case contains figurines, statues and an actual 45 rpm record covers of the Beatles’ early hits. You can sit underneath a signed, black and white print of the British moptops while you enjoy a Reuben and listen to “I Want to Hold Your Hand” piped through the sound system. Rendon admited to being a people person, which is why this business has appealed to him. “I meet and talk with great people and listen to Beatles music all day.” For him, what could be more fun? He enjoys his “table” near the cash register where he greets friends he knows through the deli, all his customers and acquaintances from this long-established eatery. A part-time musician ate lunch and then greeted Rendon and invited him to a performance of his group at a local establishment. Rendon smiled but could not make a commitment because of his responsibilities. The New York Deli enjoys a low turnover rate of its employees. The wait staff features young, efficient, polite

men and women who handle the voluminous lunch crowds efficiently and tastefully. Rendon greets friends and customers alike at the cash register each day and will support his staff in peak meal periods. The lunch crowd, the bulk of the business, is noisy and happy and often a new arrival will make a tour of the tables to greet friends, relatives and customers. The link from father to son to grandson defines the New York Deli, founded in Brownsville and cloned in Harlingen and McAllen. To many customers, the New York Deli is a sample of life beyond the Valley, a place to get a taste of the Big Apple.


20 Valley Business Report • June 2011

Artisan Cheese Comes to the Valley By Eileen Mattei Edinburg Blanc, a fresh white cheese made by South Texas Artisan Cheese, is not the typical Mexican queso fresco. Light and white as snow, slightly tart, the fromage blanc marketed under the San Jose label, is instead a hybrid of European and Mexican cheeses. It represents the conjunction of a Mexican émigré who has worked with cheeses, milk from Wisconsin, a few cheese-starter enzymes and a Valley city which saw an artisan cheese plant as a great idea and a job producer. Monterrey native and veterinarian Hector Sanchez and his wife Violeta came to the Valley 10 years ago. Prior to that, Sanchez had run a government pilot project on cheese with a long-lasting impact. “I fell in love with cheese. I went to Wisconsin and learned how to make good quality cheese.” Three years ago when the couple was thinking about a new project for the family, cheese came to the table. “I love food,” Sanchez said patting his stomach. He is the creative side of South Texas Artisan Cheese and came up with the name Edinburg Blanc. “The

city is supporting us a lot. We named the fromage blanc after Edinburg to give the city credit where credit is due.” The financial side of the operation is managed by Violeta Sanchez, a Laredo native with an MBA. North Edinburg has considerable vacant, irrigated land which intrigued the Sanchezes. “We started thinking about dairy goats and goat cheese,” said Sanchez, South Texas Artisan Cheese’s CEO and a man who always is in a good mood. But making goat cheese presented a chicken and egg dilemma. If you raise milk goats and get the herds to a level where they can supply a cheese plant, where would all the goat milk go before the plant is operational? So the Sanchezes drew up a plan to first establish their cheese plant and use cows’ milk to make their initial cheeses. They would develop a market for artisan cheeses while they grew their own dairy goat herd and, equally important, a large network of dairy goat farmers. In December, South Texas Artisan Cheese opened its state health department-inspected facility in an industrial park building in Edinburg. The San Jose

Violeta and Hector Sanchez plan to expand South Texas Artisan cheese this summer. (Mattei) brand farmers cheeses began appearing in select Hidalgo county restaurants, and in January the cheeses made it to the dairy shelves of independent groceries. Currently the Wal-Mart at Trenton and McColl is test marketing the cheeses. In May, the first pallets of the fresh cheeses were shipped to Houston, tapping into a burgeoning Texas market for local cheeses served by only one other artisan cheese company in Texas.


Advertisement A cheese plant in South Texas is not so farfetched if you look at the region’s history. At one time Hidalgo County had 22 dairy farms. Now there are none. McAllen had a creamery before World War I to handle the tons of milk produced. Although Sanchez would like to find a reliable milk supply in Texas, currently Wisconsin milk is used to make the cheeses. In stainless steel equipment, the milk is mixed with cheese enzymes (unlike Mexican queso fresco). The fresh farmers’ cheese takes less than 24 hours to achieve go-to-market state since it requires no aging. “The process of manufacturing is artisan. It is low in fat, more like a chevre,” Violeta Sanchez pointed out. “The fromage blanc has the taste and aroma of European cheese. The taste should be a winner. There are a lot of people who are going to like the taste of our cheese.” While STAC is still perfecting some of the cheeses, those flavored lightly with chili pequin or chipotle or Italian seasoning or chives have already won fans. The cheeses have a shelf life of six weeks. In the future, South Texas Artisan Cheese will be known for its chevre, the upscale, pricey but popular goat cheese. But first come the goats. (See the related article Got your goat?) The retired veterinarian’s expertise with animal husbandry will be put to good use. Sanchez said that quality dairy goats in California produce one gallon of milk per day for 305 days a year. He has talked with UT agents about encouraging families to raise dairy goats to supplement their income. “We would like to invite more people to participate,” said Sanchez, who sees small goats herds as a way of helping families. “The economy is difficult. This can be a huge opportunity for all the people around. We like to share a good idea.” Of course, Sanchez is aware than most Valley goats are the Boer variety, a meat breed. “Nubians, a dairy breed, are a better option,” he said. You can milk them and eat them. The Wisconsin Cheese Reporter has written about Sanchez and his cheese plant. “They came to see why a Mexican is making cheese in Texas using Wisconsin milk,” Sanchez said. “The market here in the Valley is huge. Fresh is what people want,” said sales manager Adrian Melendez. “I don’t think we have reached one percent of the market yet.” Later this summer next to their current location, South Texas Artisan Cheese will start construction of their own building which will include a retail outlet. Next winter, the plant plans to feature a Winter Texan special: squeaky cheese curds, the comfort food of cheese heads. Now with 10 employees, STAC expects to grow to 40 within the year with a long term goal of employing 70.

Founded on a Vision of Excellence sm What you should know Choosing a medical professional to take care of your family’s eye care needs is like choosing a medical professional to take care of any other medical need; you want to choose the doctor, center or clinic you are most comfortable with. To make an informed decision, there are some things you should know. First, there are different kinds of vision specialists. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (MDs) that specialize in medical and surgical eye care procedures. Then there are Optometrists, who hold degrees as a Doctors of Optometry (O.D.) and are labeled as physicians under Medicare. As an example, let’s examine the Shah Eye Center medical staff. The Shah Eye Center has three Ophthalmologists. Two Shah Eye Center Ophthalmologists, doctors Shah and Diaz, are board certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology. The third, Dr. Patel, is currently in the process of becoming board certified. To be board certified means that an Ophthalmologist has met rigorous certification standards established by The American Board of Ophthalmology. Like all doctors, Ophthalmologists may select to specialize in different procedures. Dr. Shah is a Lasik, Cataract and Cornea surgical specialist. Dr. Diaz is a Cataract surgical specialist and Dr. Patel is a Retina surgical specialist. Optometrists also undergo rigorous educational and licensing requirements. An Optometrist’s area of concentration is on vision, visual systems and vision information processing. Additionally, Optometrists also can specialize in the diagnoses and treatment of particular eye diseases. For instance, Dr. Al Cantar, an Optometrist with the Shah Eye Center, specializes in Glaucoma eye care. The Shah Eye Center has found combining staff Ophthalmologists and Optometrists to be an excellent formula for patient care. It allows their Optometrists to initiate an in-center consult with a surgical specialist should they find something of concern. Next, an eye center’s technicians often obtain preliminary eye screenings and patient history. It is important to make sure that the technicians are certified so that the first screenings are correctly performed and recorded so the doctor can confirm the information with you. Back to the Shah Eye Center example, the Shah Eye Center has eight certified technicians on staff. Here are a few good rules to follow when selecting an eye healthcare professional: Check your potential doctor’s qualifications - check the doctor’s credentials, certifications, experience, qualifications and areas of specialization. Check the qualifications of other doctors at the eye center - Does your surgeon work with a group of other eye surgeons in the event something occurs and your doctor is not available? Ask lots of questions - Ask what information you need to know to make an informed decision. Ask about all industry available procedure options (your surgeon may be aware of other alternatives that they do not provide) and treatment options (treatment options address the treatment rather that the procedure.) Make sure you qualify for the surgery and know the risks involved with your surgery. Ask about post surgery vision expectations, anticipated time of recovery, post surgery eye care (the do’s and don’ts associated with your surgery,) soreness associated with the surgery, the cost of surgery and the required follow up visits. Finally, it is important to consider reputation. A reputation is earned by working with one patient at a time, by constantly doing what is best for the patient and by maintaining strict standards of excellence. The Shah Eye Center was founded on a vision of excellence and, today, that remains the center’s promise to each of its patients. Founded on a vision of excellence is a service mark of the Shah Eye Center.


22 Valley Business Report • June 2011

Got your Goat? By Eileen Mattei From the edge of the suburbs out to the ranchettes and into the heart of Valley agricultural land, goats are gaining ground. Unlike past hobby farm flutters with ostriches and llamas, goats have existing markets, and those markets are strong, locally and nationally. Besides their superior abilities at keeping South Texas brush browsed down, goats are valued for their meat, their milk and their fur. Breeders raise show goats, and people keep goats as pets, but goat meat or cabrito is the driving force in the local goat industry, where the cost per pound is very low. Goat farming is the nation’s fastest growing agricultural sector, although goats have been part of the Texas ag scene for centuries. Currently, Texas has the nation’s largest population of meat goats as well and brush and fiber goats, while California leads in dairy goats. Texas’ angora goats from the Uvalde-Sonora region long dominated the fiber goat trade. San Angelo still holds a large, weekly goat sale. A recently released

USDA study of the goat industry noted that for 60 percent of goat growers, the income from goat sales is not important. Most Valley goat growers would be classified as hobby farmers who keep goats for their own table, a little income or as pets. “Goats are a lot easier to handle than cattle and less expensive to buy,” said Sam Magee, who runs RGV Livestock Show in Mercedes where hundreds of goats were shown this year. “We’ve seen an increase in goats.” The livestock show has added a new goat division to the existing breeding goats and market goats groups. The new classification is for the stocky, meaty breed known as Boers (picture a goat who’s been working out.) “The market is growing. We’d like to see more Boers,” said Bruce Kroeker, who has a herd of 25 Boer show goats in Mission and helped establish the livestock show’s Boer division. “Boers are a meatier version of the Spanish goat with better quality meat.” Informal markets—backyards sales and flea markets—predominate in the Valley. “We’ve all seen ag change in the Valley,” said

Brad Cowan, AgriLife extension agent in Hidalgo County. “For small landowners, goats work especially well. There sure have been a bunch of goats in the last 15 years.” Cowan expects an increase in meat goats as more ranchettes are established. Although there is no official census, he believes that Hidalgo and Starr counties have more goats than the eastern counties. The majority of small herds, between 10 and 99 goats, are either brush or meat goats, or serve both purposes. Benefiting from the expanding goat industry market are the region’s farm and ranch stores, feed and seed sites, ag coops and tractor supply stores. Fencing suppliers, veterinarians, and sellers of show goats are seeing more customers, too. It helps that goats require less space and less feed than a steer or heifer, meaning a smaller investment to get into the business. Of course, you can’t just turn goats loose on an overgrown acreage and come back in five months. Goats need a water supply, shelter from the rain, feed and mineral supplements and protection from predators.


June 2011 • Valley Business Report 23 They are opportunistic eaters inclined to nibble on the tips of plants, brush and trees, and they do an excellent job of clearing the lower limbs of trees and creating accessible shaded areas. Cattle and goats complement each other, Kroeker said, because they have different dietary preferences. Grass pastures are good for cattle and sheep, but rate a poor second as far as goats are concerned. Brush control is their forte, and they prefer eating a wide range of plants, clambering immediately up any obstacle and standing on their hind legs to eat huisache beans in May and other seasonal seed pods and tender leaves. Goats’ selective eating habits result in them walking more than cows and having a lower weight gain. Goats appear more susceptible to parasites when they are on grass pastures. The monthly publication “Goat Rancher” stated that goats are good at “restoring biodiversity to brushy areas,” which should appeal to environmentalists. Nutritionally, goat meat has less cholesterol and fat than beef. Goat milk is more digestible than cow’s milk. “We have had conversations with folks interested in dairy goat farms but nothing has come of it to my knowledge,” said Cowan of AgriLife. That may be changing.

A recent chefs’ tour of farms using organic techniques introduced the participants to two meat goat growers. Both of them expressed interest in getting dairy goats and possibly selling goat milk and goat cheese in the future. South Texas Artisan Cheese in

Edinburg intends to start a dairy goat herd and is actively encouraging Valley residents to start dairy herds. The company would buy their goat milk production in order to make goat cheese.

A Nubian buck and Saanen dairy doe and their two kids feast on huisache leaves and beans along with tender plant tops. (Mattei.)



Valley Business Report - June 2011