By Roberto Hugo González
As originally published by Texas Border Business newsprint edition April 2018
When speaking with a man who deals in beer as his livelihood, you may expect every other word to have something to do with what he does for a living. Not that we had that impression of Joe Lamantia, Jr. before we spoke with him, but his wide-ranging knowledge of the many things important in life caught us off guard, you might say. For a man with a limited education, Mr. LaMantia is a wealth of information. It isn’t, however, the standard black and white information straight out of the books, but rather a philosophical type of knowledge that can only be gained through experiences of life, both good and bad. He must have had more good than bad because we found a contagious optimism surrounding his entire character.
Joe LaMantia quit school at the age of seventeen. Why did he quit? His reasons had nothing to do with the reasons most kids of today drop out of school. He wasn’t in trouble with those in authority, instead, he capsulizes the reason in one short sentence, “I was trying to go out into the business world and be successful”, he says. He admits chopping cotton at the age of seventeen in the heat of the day is not his idea of a successful businessman, but it does add a certain bit of character to the person doing it day in and day out. “Once you chop cotton”, he says, “it’s something you will never forget.” For his efforts, he was bringing home the grand total of fifty dollars a week, plus room and board. Now while fifty dollars a week wasn’t a lot of money even then in the early fifties, it was more than what fifty dollars is worth today.
Now, as a successful businessman, Joe LaMantia, Jr.can look back on his life and reflect on the why and wherefores of the early years. Married at the age of 21, LaMantia cut his teeth in the agriculture business on the family farm of 510 acres raising the basic commodities of row-crops, cotton, and cattle. He gives a lot of his own credit to his father, Joseph LaMantia, Sr. Of him, he says, “My father gave me the very basics of a good start in life, he gave me my name with his good reputation. He helped me economically, and gave me whatever common sense and knowledge I currently have.” Joe, Jr. and Joe, Sr. seem to be the kind of men we all would have liked to have had as fathers. That firm, but compassionate word, “you only go around once in life, and for me, I must be happy. And assuming you are healthy, anybody can be happy if they want to be.”
“I like the idea of beer and barbecue,” he says, “but not to the point of overindulgence. In this business, just think about it, you can quench your thirst at a barbecue and fill your tummy at the same time. You can’t have any more fun than to be in a group having a cookout.”
How did Joe LaMantia get into the beer business? It wasn’t easy and here’s why. Distributorships are a tight ship to penetrate. A fraternity if you will. But with his mind made up to have one, Joe approached the ownership of what today is a competitor of his. His idea was to get his own distributorship of beer in the McAllen area. They turned him down. “I was very disappointed,” he says, “but shortly thereafter I became involved in the political process indirectly.”
What’s the connection between beer and politics? Well, aside from the obvious, it was through politics that he met former Governor of Texas, Dolph Briscoe, in the late 60’s. “I offered and accepted to help Dolph when he decided to run for Governor.” Through his political contacts, he became acquainted with then-Senator Raúl Longoria, who now serves on a court bench. One day Longoria called Joe to offer to sell him his partnership in the Anheuser-Bush distributorship in Hidalgo County. Joe said yes, and the rest, as they say, is history. From that one distributorship, L & F Anheuser-Bush has grown to four distributorships operating out of the nine counties in South Texas. This includes the areas of Willacy, Cameron, Starr Counties, as well as the Alice to Kingsville area. Big chance, big success.
Having been in the farming and ranching business all his life, Joe did not turn his back on those interests when he became a beer distributor. On the contrary. Joe’s son, Greg, who attended T.C.U. majoring in ranch management is currently in charge of the family’s ranching operation, which has grown substantially from its original point.
Some twelve years ago they planted their first pecan trees. Joe says,”We now have 500 acres of pecan trees of our own, plus a shelling plant which has the capacity of shelling in excess of 30 million pounds of pecans a year.”
It doesn’t stop there though. Joe and his family have gone into the Bobwhite Quail business also. “We have the only U.S.D.A. Inspected bobwhite quail plant in the United States.” That business is currently producing about half a million birds a year. LaMantia says there is an unlimited demand for bobwhite quail by the American consumers. These quail, which never touch the ground from birth, are much tastier than those you hunters may be chasing out in the woods. Due to the special diet, these bobwhite quail are raised on, there is a new meaning to the saying “you are what you eat!” Proudly, Joe says, “Once you eat a domesticated bobwhite quail, you never want to go back to a wild one. Never!”
The demand for these quail is far greater than the supply, with negotiations now in process with Taiwan for the exportation of these quail by the trailer load. For those of us closer to home, LaMantia has catalogs and brochures available for gift food items and long-distance ordering and shipping. These gift food items, available through Royal International, include pecan pies, which “obviously”, says Joe, “are made from our own pecans”, and Ruby Red grapefruit, grown in the Rio Grande Valley. Then for those of you looking for the spices of life, Royal International offers elephant garlic (a very large, but mild garlic), Sugar Sweets, otherwise known as the popular “1015” onion, and stuffed jalapeños. Then also included are what Joe calls a “crazy idea”, jumbo tamales. “We were sitting around talking and somebody said,‘what about tamales?’” With that question, a lot of eyebrows were raised. Now, while tamales are quite common here in the Valley, most of the rest of the country doesn’t have our supply. Imagine, mail order tamales. It’s a tasty idea.
The LaMantia family is totally involved in the family business, which has come a long way from the days of row-crops, cattle, and cotton. And so has the man with the limited education. Having the chance to see what an education could have done for him makes Joe LaMantia realize, all the more, the importance of a good education.
For a first-hand example, all he has to do is look at his five grown children. And he does. “With their education,” he says, “their approach to a problem is much better than my approach to a problem. That’s the difference.”
“My lack of an education,” he says, “wasn’t an obstacle, but with my five kids, I can see what a help it would have been. It saves you from making the mistakes you might make without it, as I did.”
“I strongly urge all young adults to not settle for anything less than the best education they can get,” Joe LaMantia. We’ll drink to that and we’ll drink to you. TBD
The post Anecdote: “I Strongly Urge All Young Adults Not to Settle for Anything Less Than the Best Education They Can Get,” – Joe LaMantia, Jr. appeared first on Texas Border Business.