They are wildly colorful, inherently destructible and ultimately rewarding.
Piñatas have enlivened festive occasions throughout their history, which goes back to Spain’s arrival in Mexico in the 16th Century — and even before that in China, where Marco Polo saw one and brought it back to Italy.
For Crissia Tellez, owner of Piñatas Express, 6901 Mullins Dr. in the Gulfton Area Management District, the colorful paper mache forms not only bring back childhood memories of fun-filled celebrations with her friends and family. They also represent the achievement of her dream of launching her own business.
Tellez is a native of El Salvador who grew up in Gulfton. After graduation from Bellaire High School in 2002, her first job was with a local business that sold piñatas and party favors. It was entry level work, but she wanted to get business experience that would help her grow and give her a future:
“I saw the creativity of the pinata business and that caught my attention.”
Tellez continued her education, attending college and completing a medical training program that launched her professional career as a full-time operations project analyst at the Texas Medical Center.
Today, at 39, married and the mother of three children, Tellez has continued her full time job. But in 2019 she followed through on her dream and opened of Piñatas Express.
The shop has 60 to 80 piñatas in stock and can craft piñatas to order. It sells traditional piñatas — designs and figures crafted out of tissue paper and newspaper – as well as flat piñatas made from cardboard.
A stroll through the back bays of the shop reveals the evolution in pinata designs over the years. LLamas, doggies, horsies, unicorns and choo-choo trains, as well as super hero action figures and even a recognizable caricature figure of an orange-haired former president, are depicted and arrayed in a floor-to ceiling explosion of colored tissue paper.
“Our piñatas are crafted for decorative pieces and for birthday with candy, Tellez said. “(But) if a customer likes something special to be made, we can do that.”
The turnaround time for a custom order piñata is three or four business days.
While most of the orders are for birthday parties and weddings, the shop also has community and corporate clients. For example, the shop provides large-scale piñatas for parades in the nearby city of Bellaire.
The shop also sells party accessories, including T-shirts, personalized bags of candy, banners, centerpieces and party invitations.
The start-up for Piñatas Express was rocky to say the least. The shop was barely up and running before it ran squarely into the COVID pandemic.
“It hit us really bad because we were new in the market,” Tellez said. “We had to close even though we had been in business for only three months.”
Tellez said the business did not yet qualify for any small business financial support from the government. It took about a year to regroup and relaunch.
We had to just stop and wait and stand,” she said.
Adding to the challenges, Tellez came down with a COVID-related illness in 2021, But her husband and co-owner, Jose Albert Tellez, stepped in to help. Their three children, Kevin 16; Angie, 14; and Brianna ,11, who attend Energized for STEM Academy, help on weekends.
“It took us about a year to get back in business and we are just now back to normal,” Tellez said. “We were praying about this day and the Lord has provided.”
In addition to walk-in customers from Gulfton and adjacent neighborhoods, Tellez said Piñatas Express has clients across from Katy to Humble. A presence on the internet has drawn customers from as far away as Louisiana and Maryland.
The couple say they are interested in opening additional locations, possibly including shops in Katy and Spring.
Meanwhile, the business continues to be a neighborhood and family affair. Jose Albert Tellez, whose family comes from Mexico, is teaching their son how to draw sketches for the piñatas.
One of the joys of the business is having children from the community come in to create new drawings for piñatas, Crissia Tellez said. “They are so creative. They bring their sketches and we love to have them do that.”
“One day I would like to pass the business on to to my children,” she said.
— by Phil Shook