When you walk into a party in Austin, Texas and Los Texas Wranglers are banging out Augie Meyer’s “Hey Baby Que Paso” you know you’re in a good place.
Joe’s Bakery, the east Austin institute of Tex Mex, rented out Fiesta Gardens last night and put on a Hell of a 50th anniversary party with plenty loud music, paletas, carne molida, birthday cake and of course several gallons of chips and queso.
Austin, Texas was quite a bit different in 1962. The city hosted a little over 200k people, Lester Palmer was smoking like a chimney in the mayor’s office while trying to figure out how he was going to get MOPAC built, the Jetsons was debuting on local TV sets and 33 year old Joe Avila was busy converting Sun Bakery into the eponymous Joe’s- and thus birthing a legend. Avila had been serving a baker’s apprenticeship under his stepfather Florentino De La’O and felt like it was his time to step into the spotlight. A place he would occupy for nearly a half century.
Full disclosure: Back in the 90s when I was in the Mexican wrestling business, Joe Avila was one of my sponsors for the Lucha Libre fighting I brought to the Pan Am Rec Center on East 3rd Street.
As is the case of most public festivals the crowd is beyond diverse:
One young gentleman in the nacho line is having a hard time. He’s coked-up and wild-eyed, constantly running his hands through his hair and glaring about the room. His date’s not faring much better. She’s wearing busted flip flops and is not comporting herself in the manner of a young lady. Chief Acevedo’s just outside the door but he’s working the crowd-none the wiser.
An elderly Mexican man is putting on a great show on the dance floor. He’s flat getting down as the band swings into an old Little Joe song. He’s the sole groover but it matters little as he scoots about with an imaginary partner.
I came for the paletas, and the cookies, and the birthday cake. When you’re at a bakery party you can do a lot worse than to vector in on the baked goods. All are fine.
The Avila extended family take the stage and a host of local luminaries begin to fete them. Numerous awards and proclamations are rendered. It’s a cool scene and some of the old timers are gently weeping as the importance of Joe’s Bakery’s lengthy run as a Latino business is explained to the crowd.
Joe Avila was one of the lions of Tex Mex. His importance must not be understated. He began his career in food when he was 6 years old and worked hard for the next 75 years til he went to his maker at the age of 81. We’re not building them like Mr. Avila anymore.
Next time you’re heading out for a plate of Tex Mex, go to Joe’s and get a plate of carne guisada with a raft of buttery, flour tortillas. Sit back in the house that Joe built, that industrious soul-filled man who hundreds of Austinites came out to celebrate on an early Fall evening, a half century after he laid down the DNA for Latino success in East Austin.