Monday, February 10, 2014

Monterey House Candy

Monterey House, a favorite in the neighborhood through all of the '70s and '80s, was just across the street from Almeda Mall, near the Target and the little office supply store (remember that tiny box of a place in the parking lot?). 

I've tried to pin down some of the history of the place, but haven't had much luck online. I'm told the food was actually prepared at a central location and shipped out to all of the restaurants around town, where it was simply heated up and put on a plate.  I do seem to remember really fast service. It was also very cheap, so highly favored by the high school crowd.

The restaurant chain was founded in 1951 in Texas and bought out in the late 80s by conglomerates. There appears to be one of the oldest of the spots still in business by the same family since 1963 in Beaumont and still under the Monterey House logo of old. 

But the real star in my memory was the sugar candy. That candy at the bottom of the chip basket was legendary. And I could never leave without a praline from the counter. 

As it turns out, the granddaughter of that candy maker has taken up the mantle of social media press and started a Facebook page specifically for the candy and her grandfather, Jesse Bocanegra, who is still cooking. 

from the La Colmena Facebook page

La Colmena Mexican Candy Mfg. Co. was famous for their Leche Quemada and Praline sold at Monterey House, Felix Mexican Restaurants, Santa Anita, Molina's, El Patio, Los Toros, Mexico Way, Old Mexico Taverna, Bertha's, Martin's Mexican Restaurant, Sarabias Curio Shop, Las Casuelas, La Consentida, Arturo's Mexican Restaurant, The Green Leaves Cafe, Los Tio's, Adoph's Mexican Restaurant, La Providencia, Mexicatessen, La Placita Restaurant #1, La Placita Restaurant #2 (Pasadena), Larry's Mexican Restaurant (Richmond TX), El Original (Galveston, TX) and Moreno's Mexican Restaurant (Baytown, TX) until the company closed their doors in the early 1970s. After 40 years, La Colmena Mexican Candy Mfg. Co. is expected to reopen in the Fall of 2014.

Updated to add:

After posting the above, I added my name to the email list and when the order mail showed up, I asked around for someone local who wanted to share with me. Lisa was up the challenge and we ordered two pounds for free local pick-up. I was coming in the following month and wanted to save the shipping (which runs more than the pound of candy.)

When I finally met up with Lisa she confessed: she'd eaten my share! But another order had been made the week prior to my arrival, so she got me a fresh batch.

Her experimentation also paid off, since she told me the real secret is to set the candy out overnight to get just the right consistency we remember from the chip basket. It dries out the sugar to the perfect mouth feel.

I didn't make it back to Colorado with very much! And up here, drying it out overnight kills it (no humidity), so your mileage may vary. If you're in humid Houston, the overnight trick is the one to remember.

And yes, it tasted just like I remembered. All I needed to do was cut it into little rectangles and find a chip basket!


  1. Headquarters and the commesary were located on Richey st in Pasadena / South Houston. The owner was David Garza. Facing bankruptcy the company was sold. The name was changed to Little Monterey. Larry Forehand was on the board of directors at the time which left the company and started his own restaurant know as Casa Ole. After time bought the Little Monterey restaurants. If you compare the menus you will find them to be very similar. The main difference between Monterey and Casa Ole is Casa Ole makes their food on site. Since then Casa Ole has been through changes and you can find current information online. Hope this helps.

  2. Lots of good memories. Thanks for the update

  3. The sole surviving Monterey House (#21) is still running successfully in Beaumont, Texas at 1090 S. 11th St. Owned by the LeJeune family since July 1, 1963, it's the oldest operating restaurant in Beaumont. We make our food fresh from scratch everyday since the Monterey House corporation ceased to exist in the 80's. The food tastes the same as it did when the food was delivered from the commissary way back when. Folks are rediscovering the place after so many years of believing that all the stores were closed, Monterey House in Beaumont is alive and well and not planning to close anytime soon. The phone number is 409/832-0310. Connie LeJeune-Oien, contributor. Come see us and taste the memories!

    1. I hope you keep the restaurant going. I am from Clear Lake City (Houston "NASA") & now live in the Austin area. In the 1970s Monterey House was one of the few chains that we ate Tex-Mex at in South Houston. We actually had one in Austin that closed in the late 1980s.
      I have not found any candies that match the Monterey House candy. I have tried other Mexican pralines in the store (HEB) but nothing as good as MH candy.

    2. Next time we go through Beaumont heading to Louisiana, we will definitely stop in and eat at the last existing Monterey House #21 for some food & memories.

    3. David Garza was my uncle and I grew up in the MH restaurant biz from the age of 12. Mom/dad owned the store on Fondren.
      Just to clear up some of the above, Larry Forehand had left MH prior to it being sold, and Casa Ole was already a successful chain, although at the time, much smaller than MH.
      I was always proud of being part of it, and am truly humbled that there are those out there that still remember it as I do.

  4. They used to have the exact same stuff at Dos Mas in Pasadena, TX!! Except it was swirled into these Hershey's kisses sorta shapes. I miss that stuff! Favorite dessert of all time!!!

  5. I have been looking for this candy for over 20 years. We use to go to me ivan Monterey house when I was little. I am hoping to send my brother for his birthday!

  6. Does anyone know if I could still bye the candy I went to the restaurant alot when I live in Pasadena tx I was born in Houston TX