“If You Love What You Do, It Never Feels Like You’re at Work.” – Lucille Cavazos
By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
As originally published in Texas Border Business newsprint edition November 2019
I recently heard the story about an extraordinary businesswoman who suggested to a hamburger chain that they sell taquitos; it got my attention. Imagine, for the successful hamburger chain “Whataburger” to even entertain the idea. There is a lot to say about both sides, for the large company to think outside of the box and the businesswoman for being gutsy in business. She and her husband gave them hundreds of tortillas for their research and development test kitchen, just to get them to start selling tacos on their tortillas. There you have it, the chain created the famous “Whataburger Taquito” which became the favorite of thousands of their clients.
That businesswoman was Lucille Cavazos, she made the offer as co-owner of C&C Bakery at that time. Her ex-husband Joel Cavazos, and his parents, Elisa Cavazos and Baldomero Cavazos, and Lucille started that tortilla manufacturing business from the ground up.
Mr. Cavazos passed away last year; they were married until the year 1984. During that time, they grew a phenomenal business, one of the largest tortilla factories in the country at that time.
Before marrying in 1977 and going into the tortilla business, Lucille had studied agriculture in college. “I was a soil science and landscaping architecture major,” she said.
“When we married, my husband, a Chemical Engineer and Professor at Wayne State and 9 years my senior, had a restaurant near the university called the Beggar’s Banquet, and Elisa, his mom had a small café, C&C Café. Everyone was rolling out so many tortillas. So, instead of rolling them out, we bought a new but difficult machine. It was something… you practically had to be an octopus to operate it.”
“We started a tortilla factory out of our own necessity, but it grew because of the needs of the community. We grew so quickly that without thinking we had taken the name from his parents’ bakery, called C&C Bakery in Kingsville.”
According to Lucille, they had one of the most delicious products in the market. “I would say that we were making the best tortilla product. We were ahead of our time and grew by leaps and bounds.”
She told Texas Border Business that when they had the factory, someone had to market the product, and someone had to be the operations person. She said, “In the tortilla factory or any other business, if you don’t step out of your comfort zone, sometimes you’re just not going to get to that next step.” Even though marketing was not in her training, someone had to do it… She had to re-invent herself.
They were successfully getting the tortillas into the grocers. Back then, there was not a central procurement office. “We literally had to knock at every grocery manager’s door to ask them to place our product on their shelves. I had many managers say no… but then maybe the other department would take my product. And, that is how we grew. We each grew in our own roles, our product line was growing, our territories were growing. However, we just did not want all our eggs in one basket. So, we needed institutional accounts. At this point, is when we decided to go talk to the Whataburger representatives and tell them how important it was for them to offer another product. All marketing in our company, as in any company, is about relationship building. I had a wonderful relationship with Mr. Bill Costin and Dena Driver in Marketing for Whataburger.”
“I wanted to open up the whole Valley,” explained Lucille. “At that time, we had a couple of independent vendors selling our product in very isolated areas in the Valley.” She met with some resistance, and the argument was, “There are a whole bunch of Hispanic women, Lucille. Why would you want to go to South Texas? They’re all Latinas, they know how to make tortillas.”
In the 70s, C&C Bakery’s customer base was the Anglican customer, and she told them, “The Hispanic women are getting educated. They work, they don’t have time to be rolling out tortillas.” The short story of the argument is that she won and opened the Rio Grande Valley to sell tortillas.
She pointed out that they didn’t have very many competitors, and the few that were out couldn’t compete with the flavor, the marketing, and the foothold that the Cavazos’ had on the area. “Our product went from South Texas to Laredo, Corpus Christi, all of Central Texas, San Antonio, all the way up to Victoria, and Temple,” she said.
That big of an operation and sales territory took a team, a team that would plan and implement acquiring new prospects. Like we say in sales, ‘beating the bushes.’ That’s what she and her team did and did it well.
In the late seventies and early eighties, with the store chains like H-E-B, you literally had to go and knock on every H-E-B location. She said, “You had to meet every store manager. You had to visit in person every Maverick market, Circle K, Pronto, El Centro, M. Rivas, Kroger, and Albertsons just to mention a few.”
While having all that activity in her life, she became a mother. Her son, Joel (39), is a music producer in California and spends time in California and the Valley. “I also have a daughter, Cassandra, she attended the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York. She’s 36, and a makeup consultant in Dallas, Texas.”
In her comfort zone, Lucille packed up her house and little boy and moved to San Antonio. She was opening that market for C&C Bakery with her team, all while pregnant with her daughter. This is an example of her commitment as a mother and businesswoman.
In 1984, Lucille had to do it alone after her divorce. She says that people need to re-invent themselves without resistance. She started her consulting firm to help other small companies by opening doors for them. By that time, most of the large companies that she had a relationship with, had added central procurement offices, and she had a foothold in them. “Now, I could cast a wider net on who I could market to, to help these small manufacturing companies get their product shelf space,” she said.
Lucille moved her family and firm to Austin, and someone asked her to help another friend who had a personal care home business and needed help. So, she went to visit the prospect.
As Lucille walked into the building she says, “I was just mesmerized by these elderly women with beautiful silver hair. They were watching TV and there was this big, beautiful, black woman cooking pork chops and pouring coffee. She was hollering out to them. ‘Honey, how do you want your eggs? Honey, how do you want your toast? Ma’am, do you want a cup of coffee?’”
The elderly ladies told Lucille, “You better say yes because she only offers you one time.” She said, “Okay, yes, cream and sugar.” She got excited to see and to feel the action. The owner walked in, and asked, “What do you think?” And she replied, “This is awesome!”
Lucille helped the owner of Barton Hills Assisted Living with proper marketing. She would help to bring more customers to the care facility and in exchange would learn more about the business. It didn’t take long for her to fill it with new customers.
On her daily drive, she noticed that around the corner, there was an old nursing home that was emptying out. Lucille advised the owner, “You need to buy it!” With help from the proprietor’s father (a local internist), they did the remodeling to make it homier. It was great for Lucille. “This was good because that’s how I learned how to start up a personal care home, complete with the licensing requirements, too.”
Her incursion in this industry got even more interesting. While at Barton Hills, Lucille received a phone call, just out of nowhere. The caller asked, “What makes you think that you can do this job in the Valley?” She replied, “I have no idea who you are or what you are asking of me.” The interrogation made Lucille uncomfortable, not knowing who it was. Well, it happened that a client of hers, by the name of Dana Carr, gave her name to a company recruiting for a manager.
When Lucille found out that she was being recruited, she met with the recruiter for a 30-minute job interview, which turned into 4 hours. She came to an arrangement accepting the job to run their nursing home interest in the Valley, re-inventing herself again.
Lucille recalls this happening in 1997; she moved with her daughter to the Valley. She found a place to live in Cimarron owned by Dr. and Mrs. Pedro Montano.
It took her about six months to stabilize the purchase of this huge nursing home entity by bringing more patients and stabilizing the market. Because of her success, she was promoted and transferred to East Texas to manage eight nursing homes.
It took just one year for Lucille to know that East Texas was not for her. She had savored the warmth of the people of the Valley, and that did it. She now had decided that she would build her own assisted living facility. While in East Texas, she commuted each weekend for 6 months to Southwest Texas University where she studied Assisted Living Management under the school’s Department of Nursing.
Lucille said, “The people in the Valley are kind and loving. If I’m going to get into elder care, that’s the one component I don’t want to have to worry about: Kindness.” She was prepared to worry about finances, building, accounting, and anything else. According to Lucille, the kindness part is the most significant component that should be off her list of worries.
“I moved back to the Valley without having any relatives here,” she said. The people from the Valley embraced her, and she was overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness.
By the middle of 1998, she was back in Mission and quickly set up shop. Lucille was called back to the Nursing Home in McAllen, they needed her back because their census had gone down. The word was, “We know that you’re going to build your assisted living home. But in the meantime, can you help us?” She accepted.
Today as well as the last nineteen years, Lucille has owned and operated her very successful business Waterford Gardens Assisted Living in Mission Texas. Re-inventing herself. As she says, “The best assisted living North and South of the Mason Dixon Line!”
She began building her first assisted living home Waterford Gardens Assisted Living in 2000, the second, Waterford Gardens Guest House in 2004, and the third, Bungalows at Waterford Gardens in 2010. This is where she has cared for matriarchs and patriarchs of the RGV and of the Midwest whether walking, using a walker or in a wheelchair. Just recently, she built a beautiful private park as a botanical garden to include a koi pond and butterfly gardens for 47 assisted living residents. She runs her three assisted living communities on the same campus with 37 employees.
Lucille’s focus has been paying attention to the residents’ every detail and need. She has been helping the family members find a balance with all the needs that a frail or elderly resident may have and in a tender way. Waterford has such a homelike bed and breakfast atmosphere where at any moment you will be served something delectable by one of the chefs. You have to visit and tour to witness this truly one-of-a-kind assisted living atmosphere.
And, as she truly believes ‘in business, it is about relationships’, she has been a member of the Greater Mission Chamber of Commerce serving on their board for 5 years and as the chairman for a year. She was appointed to serve the Mission Economic Development Corporation for 3 years, is a member of the RGV Estate Planning Council, and has been on the BBVA Bank Board for the last 8 years.
Anyone that wants to know more about her services can visit www.youtube.com and look for Waterford Gardens Assisted & Senior Living. You will see the loveliness and beauty abound and listen to some of the resident’s family testimonials. Like she says, “The private park was a no-brainer, it’s where I originally started! I believe that people need to be outside to get sunlight, enjoy the gardens, see the creatures, birds, and more. It’s just the healthiest thing we all need,” she finalized.