It’s closing in on about 6 a.m. when Ruben Contreras begins thinking about his second cup of coffee this Thursday morning.
With everything to do inside the busy Nortex Bakery & Fast Food kitchen, it’s easy to lose track of time. However, through the clinking and clanking of pans and the energetic sounds of lively Norteño morning music blaring from a small FM radio, are the muffled morning sounds of traffic.
People are waking up and moving around, going to work and school or simply just out getting breakfast. Contreras is about ready for that morning rush.
He’s been here at work for hours; since about 2:30 to be exact, just as he’s been almost every morning since opening his bakery in 1985.
There’s still work left to do before that second cup of coffee this morning.
Contreras finishes glazing a tray of pastries, and then heads over to a giant mixer where he breaks a couple of eggs and adds a few heaps of ingredients before the machine begins bringing it all together to create a thick dough which is added to a donut dispenser over a fryer. With the grace of an artist, Contreras waves the dispenser over the hot oil, leaving a trail of donuts. Using wooden sticks, he flips the donuts before carefully removing them and adding chocolate glaze.
Another wash and wipe of his hands and the 72-year-old is off to the giant brick oven in the back of the kitchen. There, a dozen large cookie sheets await him. Each sheet is loaded with different dough and breads Using wooden oar like a giant spatula, Contreras carefully puts each of the cookie sheets in the oven.
He’s quickly back in the kitchen to use the leftover dough to make donut holes. Minutes later, he’s carefully retrieving the pans from the oven and placing them in a cooling stand.
“Mucho trabajo (lots of work),” Contreras says over a sigh.
Finally, that second cup of coffee.
It’s definitely a labor of love for Contreras, Being a panadero or a baker is the only job he’s ever known since he began working as a young man in Nuevo Laredo. And while he isn’t close to retiring, Contreras is ready for somewhat of a break. That’s why after Sunday he is leasing his business to the family that owns and operates El Jalisciense and Mi Ranchito restaurant in Alice.
Contreras will continue to run the Nortex bakery and kitchen, so the food, tortillas and pan dulce isn’t changing. The only change coming is on the business end.
“I’m not retiring,” Contreras said. “If I wanted to retire, I would have done it when I was 65. I still want to work for sometime.”
All this is contrary to rumors of the restaurant closing which began on social media earlier this week.
What this business move affords Contreras is more free time during the day. His plan is to continue his morning work schedule and then be off in the afternoons, time which he normally spent tending to the business end of his bakery.
Details of changes the new management may put in place won’t be known until after Sunday, but Contreras said Nortex’s pan dulce and tortillas won’t change. They will likely even be served in the other restaurants.
However, one thing is certain — Contreras isn’t leaving and the food which has become a local favorite isn’t changing.
“The city has been good to me,” he said. “It was there for me, so I want to be there for my city.”