Throwback Thursday: Mi Tierra history traced back to $150 purchase by Cortez family

Pedro and Cruz Cortez founded restautant in 1941

By RJ Marquez - Digital Content Curator, Andrew Wilson - Digital Producer, Valerie Gomez - Video Editor

For close to eight decades, Mi Tierra at Market Square has been serving up delicious Mexican food, pan dulce and a fun, festive family atmosphere. The iconic San Antonio restaurant opened in 1941.

Pedro Cortez had just moved to the United States from Guadalajara, Mexico.

He worked for his aunt and uncle at their butcher shop when he came across the opportunity of a lifetime, a chance to purchase a small cafe from its owner to whom he delivered meat.

“He told my grandfather, ‘Do you want to buy this place for $150?’ My grandfather being very entrepreneurial and new to the U.S., said 'Yes!'” said Carino Cortez, third generation of La Familia Cortez.

Pedro Cortez originally named the restaurant Jamika No. 5, but soon changed the name to honor his Mexican roots.

“He switched the named to Mi Tierra, which means my land or my country, because it was a little piece of his home that he could make here,” said Carino Cortez.

Pedro Cortez and his wife, Cruz, worked side-by-side to make the restaurant a success and expand the business.

The bakery opened in the 1950s and it flourished at the site as it catered to Market Square guests and early-rising farmers.

But urban renewal in the 1970s led to changes in Market Square.

The produce terminal moved south and the area was in danger of becoming abandoned.

The Cortez family lobbied successfully to preserve the culture in Market Square and keep the restaurant open.

And open the restaurant would stay. In fact, to this day, the restaurant stays open 24 hours, seven days a week. One of the few times it closed was when Pedro Cortez passed away. 

“Back in the ‘80s, we didn’t even know where he put the keys because he would say, ‘If I am paying the rent 24-7, I want to, you know, be open 24-7,” said Carino Cortez.

Out of respect for Pedro Cortez and his service to the community, police officers stood at Mi Tierra’s doors to make sure the family and employees could attend his services.

KSAT learned that Cruz Cortez, the matriarch of the family, died on Thursday at the age of 98.

Through three generations, the restaurant remains the cornerstone of Market Square.

It’s still serving Tex-Mex food and the bakery is still popular among San Antonio residents and tourists. 

“Real Mexican pan dulce, it’s not something you can go to culinary school for,” said Carino Cortez. "It is an art, so it’s something that is passed down from generation to generation.”

The mural, altars and festive decor also stand out and bring back years of memories.

“I remember bringing my own daughter here for the first time and to see a kid's eyes light up when they first walk in, my cousin always says it's like a pinata exploded,” said Carino Cortez.

But the key ingredient to Mi Tierra’s success: it’s connection to the community and San Antonio’s history. 

“Having us here and being passionate about our "Comida Cultural Familia" is, our motto to our team members is really unique,” said Cortez.

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