Everything you need to know about the Mendez family’s business empire is just that: The Mendez family.
Forget that Mendez Trucking of San Antonio is one of the largest independent trucking contractors in Texas. Put aside for a moment that Triple R Diesel, a retailer of custom semis, and Texas Chrome Shop, a thriving after-market retail store and service garage right next door to the dealership, both have a line of customers out the door.
Heck, even for a moment, throw out the Mendez clan’s popular reality TV show, “Texas Trocas,” on Discovery en Español.
Before all of this, there was family — for better or worse, in good times and in bad — starting with family patriarch Raul Mendez Sr.
More than 40 years ago, Raul migrated to the U.S. from his hometown of Piedras Negras in Coahuila, Mexico. He had little more to his name than a dream and an uncompromising will to see that dream to fruition.
Raul started out picking produce in South Texas; then he moved the family to San Antonio, where he started as a truck driver. Each mile driven brought him closer to his goal of owning his own truck and forming his namesake trucking company.
“It’s a hard business, you know?” said Roland Mendez, Raul’s younger son. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, he was gone away from home. My dad instilled that if you want to make it in this business, you’ve got to make sacrifices.”
Finally, with money he’d saved — and after selling nearly all of his personal belongings — Raul Sr. bought his first 18-wheeler. Eldest son Raul Jr. was his first employee, who was joined soon thereafter by Roland.
“When I turned 18, they had me get my CDL and I started moving trucks in town for them. Then, a year after that, they became a dealer for a dry van trailer, which I would run to Laredo and back,” Roland remembered. “When my brother turned 21, my dad already had Mendez Trucking, and (my brother) went over the road. I followed when I turned 21. That’s kinda how we got started in the trucking industry.”
Roland did not immediately discover a love for trucking.
“I’ll be honest with you, man, initially, I didn’t like driving. We were 21 years old, and our friends were going on their spring break vacations and we were out there busting our butts through Michigan and Chicago and New York City. All our dedicated lanes were in the East Coast, so the winter was pretty hard, running through the ice. You know, we were not used to snow and ice and really cold weather. We’re southern boys from South Texas, and we didn’t know what ice was. We didn’t know what snow was.”
Having built everything he had with his own two hands, Raul Sr. was a perfectionist. He spared no one from his iron-rod attitude toward work, especially his own sons. The family matriarch, Lupita, may have taken a different approach than her husband, but she was no less a stickler for what she saw as the important things in life.
“Our mom kinda would be a referee. (She’d say,) ‘You know your dad’s like that because he wants you to be the best at what you do,’” Roland said. “At the same time, Mom was always telling us to save our money, always keep money in the bank. ‘Even if it’s a really good truck, the engine can go, and you’ve got to have the money to repair the motor. Don’t buy a sports car; save your money, save your money.’”
As much as the boys may have chafed under what was expected of them, they couldn’t argue with success. Today, Mendez Trucking runs more than 85 trucks and employs dozens of drivers, per the company website. In addition, it’s given rise to several ancillary businesses, starting with Triple R Diesel, which has born out of adversity.
“We’d grown to almost 100 units and we were running primarily automotive parts to the East Coast for General Motors. We were hauling for Ford and Chrysler, and it was a lot of fun doing that,” Roland said. “If you recall in 2005, 2006 and then the beginning part of 2007, General Motors went on strike and the fuel price doubled, tripled.”
Mendez Trucking was having a hard time.
“We finally had two options — either we file for Chapter 13 and go bankrupt, or downsize,” he continued. “We downsized probably at least three-quarters of the fleet, man, sold the majority of our units, and we said, ‘You know what? Let’s do something different. Let’s open up a shop among us three, maybe buy and sell trucks. Let’s see if we can sell a little bit of chrome.’ It was whatever we could do to survive.”
That new venture became Triple R Diesel, a shop by truckers for truckers, parked right alongside the interstate. It was also a chance for Raul Sr. to prove he could still teach the next generation a thing or two about his instincts for the clientele.
“Dad’s idea was to buy an old dump truck, fix it up and park it out front, and sell it,” Roland said. “Me and my brother we were like, “That ain’t gonna work.’ Man, he polished it up himself. He put on chrome. He put a new paint job on it. He detailed the inside. Mechanically, got it up to par running it through the shop.
“He parks the truck in front of the interstate on a Saturday morning, and he literally had five people Monday morning fighting for that truck. The guy who bought it tells my dad, ‘Can you make two more like that?’ Now, me and my brother are like, ‘Wow, this is gonna work! Why don’t we just do the same thing?’ So, then we’re off.”
Family pride being what it is, the three Mendez men turned the business into a competition to see who could outperform the other.
“I’m building one, my brother is building, my dad’s building. We’re competing on pushing dump trucks out, and then it became something pretty big,” Roland said. “We had customers from Guam (who were) building the Naval base. We had a whole bunch of customers from California, Hawaii, Utah.”
One truck was so swank it made it into an industry magazine and caught the eye of a prospective client who was looking to have a custom semi built for shows. Of course, the Mendez family took on the challenge.
From that single truck came Texas Chrome Shop, and from the shop came the creations that would eventually attract the attention of reality TV show producers. In 2014, the Spanish-language “Texas Trocas” debuted on Discovery En Español, featuring the three Mendez men and their wives as they tackled one custom project after another.
All in all, it’s been a wild ride for the Mendez family.
Roland said everything that has come the family’s way has been rooted in the simple business philosophy of serving the customer fairly and delivering on promises. He points to one particular instance among many that highlights this most important Mendez family value, again, forged by his father.
“This is a true story,” Roland said. “When Dad had five people fighting over that first dump truck, I remember the customer exactly who got it. He gave my dad a deposit and said, ‘Monday I’ll bring you a cashier’s check.’ So, another guy calls and he says, ‘I’ll give you $2,000 more.’ My dad says, ‘No. I shook the man’s hand. I’m going to honor what the man’s given me.’
“Then another guy calls and says, ‘I’ll give you $5,000 more,’” he continued. “And my dad says no. Then, like I said before, when the buyer came back that Monday, he ordered two more trucks.”
Roland and Raul Jr. have learned from their father’s example.
“You know, my father, he’s old school,” Roland explained. “He’s always been real hard on us, just pushing us and making us work. He’s the hardest boss you’ve ever had. ‘You ain’t doing this right. You gotta drive to perfection. You got to have the engine sound perfect.’
“But when I look back, I guess Mother and Father really do know best,” he said. “We’ve been very blessed to have them giving us advice throughout our lives and throughout our careers in our industry and our company.”
Dwain Hebda is a freelance journalist, author, editor and storyteller in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to The Trucker, his work appears in more than 35 publications across multiple states each year. Hebda’s writing has been awarded by the Society of Professional Journalists and a Finalist in Best Of Arkansas rankings by AY Magazine. He is president of Ya!Mule Wordsmiths, which provides editorial services to publications and companies.