People Profile: Luis Contreras, Executive Surf Club - Marina Arts District in Corpus Christi, TX
Jul 18, 2019
By: Alexandra Scott
One of the incredible things about working and living in Downtown Corpus Christi is all the amazing people you meet. The people who have been around long enough to see the so-called “rise and fall of downtown” and know that the current resurgence of downtown is the real deal. The people who see downtown as a family and want to see this family thrive and be the best they can. The people like Luis “Louie” Contreras of Executive Surf Club.
You may know Louie, you may not. But you’ve certainly seen his handiwork around Surf Club over the last fifteen years. Even when he moved back to Corpus as a 27-year-old and started bartending at the restaurant, he still had a larger role than your average bartender. After all, he’d been in the restaurant/bar business since his late teens.
Anyone remember Tom, Dick & Harry’s? Planet Luna? What about The Yucatan or maybe even Dentoni’s? Louie does. In fact, before he went off to college at Shriner University, all of Chaparral Street between William and Lawrence was thriving and vibrant with different businesses.
When he came back was a different story.
“Downtown was a shell of what it was to me,” stated Louie, a self-described blunt and to the point kind of person, “you know, nostalgia and all that.”
The 41-year-old did give a shout-out to the OG Bourbon St. and everyone’s favorite rooftop bar, Aria. Throughout all the “ups and downs” of Downtown Corpus Christi, Executive Surf Club and its buddy Water St. Oyster Bar have survived. Not only survived, but they’ve also been the constant bright spots and a natural place for Luis to land.
Contreras, who grew up working after school and weekends at his family’s grocery store/deli in Odem, has been part of the foodservice industry his whole life. The Tuloso-Midway grad spent time, after leaving Shriner, working for Landry’s Seafood as a bar rep for Joe’s Crab Shack before eventually settling back in Corpus Christi.
It’s safe to say he has seen what to do, and more specifically, what NOT to do as a manager during his time in the industry.
If you’ve ever walked into Surf club, you know you’re walking into a family establishment. Everyone from the cooks to the bartenders to the wait staff and the managers work together like one, big, mostly functioning family. And that’s largely thanks to Louie.
“We are going to argue like family, and we are going to get along like family,” said Louie when asked about the welcoming culture at Surf Club, “Everybody that I hire, I shake their hand and say “Welcome to the family.”
This is the same family that opened the restaurant to the public the day after Hurricane Harvey.
After Contreras made sure his own home was still standing, he headed straight to Surf Club to see if anything was damaged. Not only was there little to no damage, everything seemed to be in working order. So, he, along with most of the Lomax family (who have owned and operated the Water St. restaurants since 1983) and whatever staff they could get to come in on short notice, began serving burgers and beer to anyone who came in.
“We had people lined up from the bar all the way out to the fountain,” described Louie. As someone who personally sought refuge at Executive Surf Club, it was certainly a sight to see.
So, what’s next for Luis Contreras, the person friends describe as sarcastic, funny and the kind of person to give you the “shirt off his back and the last dollar in his wallet”? Although according to him, it’s the dream of anyone in the industry to eventually open their own place, he doesn’t believe he’s there yet. For now, he’ll enjoy surfing, working out and hanging with his “nieces and nephews” (who are actually the five foster kids his parents, both in the 70s, have taken in).
While you used to be able to find him nerding out over video or computer games, he hasn’t had internet or cable in his house for over 12 years. He says, “I got to the point that I was spending too much time playing games, so I got rid of it.”
Now you can find him either working at Executive Surf Club or mingling and having fun downtown. He’s excited to see the new growth in Downtown Corpus Christi and believes “anything to draw people into downtown” is a good thing.
“We need the buzz. Buzz creates traffic,” commented Louie. He hopes this traffic will get young, vibrant people with really good ideas to try their hand at creating something lasting, but he knows “somethings are going to work, some aren’t”.
Maybe one of these fresh, new ideas will be Louie’s. Since we already know, he’s seen what it takes to make something last.