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Three months after stepping down from the La Joya school district’s top job, former district superintendent Alda T. Benavides is enjoying retirement as she flexes her business skills.
Last week, Benavides officially began working as the owner of Victoria’s Tea Room, a Mission eatery she runs alongside her two sons.
“I’ve always wanted to open something like this, especially in the La Joya area,” Benavides said. “When I found out this place was for sale I thought ‘why not run this? It’s already set up and I won’t have to start a business from the ground up.’”
Victoria’s Tea Room has been in existence since 2002 and moved to a new location two years ago at 2714 N. Conway Ave. It offers a variety of soups, salads and sandwiches and a store that sells tea sets and other trinkets in a setting Benavides described as quaint and cozy.
“I’ve been coming here since it opened in 2002 with my friends and always kept coming back,” Benavides said. “There’s excellent chicken salads, salads, soups and no fried foods. As someone who has always been weight and health conscious, it’s a place where my family and I have been going to because it’s healthy.”
Benavides said she first inquired about purchasing Victoria’s Tea Room in mid-June, a few weeks before she was set to retire from the La Joya school district.
Benavides announced her plans to retire from the district last February after three decades with the district, and accepting a $476,000 severance agreement. As previously reported, the agreement came with a non-disclosure clause that prevented her and anyone with the district from discussing the agreement.
“[Running Victoria’s Tea Room] doesn’t feel like a job compared to being in charge of 4,300 employees and 27,000 kids. It’s very peaceful,” Benavides said when asked to compare her new duties with that of her old job. “It’s a different kind of stress that’s not stressful so it’s pleasant and enjoyable. I loved my job but this is different.”
As superintendent, Benavides’s tenure at the school district included opening three early college high school campuses, opening a college and career center that graduated over 2,000 students that had previously dropped out of school, and opening a district wellness and health center to promote a healthy lifestyle among students and staff.
Benavides said that with the healthy menu provided by Victoria’s Tea Room, she gets to continue promoting a healthy lifestyle.
“There’s not that many places that cater to healthy eating and don’t offer fried foods,” Benavides said. “Getting into good health habits is important and I’ve always been one to provide for the community and I do believe this is a way to help.”
Despite the new ownership, Benavides says she has no plans to change anything and still employs Violeta Garcia, who has served as the tea room’s cook for the last 12 years and is responsible for the eatery’s famous enchilada soup.
Victoria’s Tea Room has a general dining area and a separate dining area to host special occasions and recently installed Wi-Fi so customers can work in the cozy environment Victoria’s Tea Room provides.
“Today’s age is hectic and rushed and people seldom have time to just enjoy,” Benavides said. “I would like people to come in and say ‘We had a nice, peaceful lunch with good company’ and to bring their friends to enjoy themselves.”
Benavides said she plans to reach out to the local school districts in the area to provide internship or employment opportunities for culinary students.
“This gives the opportunity to try something different and exciting but most importantly, I am blessed to work alongside my sons while I continue to contribute to my community and expand my personal and professional networks,” she said.
This article originally appeared in the Friday Sept. 13, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.