PHOTOS — Pete Manuel and Harold Manuel say goodbye after 42 years of business in Port Arthur
Published 12:42 am Saturday, February 4, 2023
Pete Manuel and Harold Manuel have worked together so long, they finish each other’s sentences. For 42 years, the brothers owned and operated Pete and Harold’s Auto on Bluebonnet Avenue.
But now they’re moving on to new ventures after selling the longtime Port Arthur establishment in October.
“Travel, on my part,” Harold, 70, said of his retirement plans. “I don’t know what Pete wants to do.”
Pete quickly piped in with “Go to church.”
Although it would later be revealed church isn’t the only place the eldest of 12 children would be.
“I’m a very busy person,” he said. “I have my own private radio station. I play zydeco. I have a whole lot of stuff to do that I’ve been doing with this. This gives me a break.”
But Harold intends to significantly free up his time, and to do so somewhere tropical.
“The islands,” he said. “Jamaica, Cozumel, all of them. I’ve worked enough in my lifetime to say I’ve done enough.”
The brothers from Louisiana have been working together since they were children.
“We really come from the sharecrop,” Pete said. “We come from a farm, a plantation farm. That was my first job — picking cotton, okra, corn. I did it all. I was a farmer — a sharecropper farmer.”
It was how their parents earned money, with the children joining because “we gotta eat,” Pete said with a loud laugh.
“My first transportation was a horse,” he said. “Momma would give me a couple of bags of eggs, and the store was about two miles away. And you ride the horse to go to the store — don’t break them — to trade them for sugar and coffee. We couldn’t make coffee or sugar. But everything else, we grew all of that.”
After high school, Pete went to Vietnam where he taught, while Harold enlisted in the U.S. Army. Soon after, the two would begin working together at an automotive repair shop on Gulfway Drive.
And when Harold was 23, Pete purchased an automotive repair shop on Bluebonnet Avenue that would become the next family business.
“I moved them all down here (in 1985) — my momma, my daddy, and my momma had her daddy with her,” Pete said. “I bought them a house on San Antonio (Avenue) and moved them in there. All of them worked here and all of them died here.”
For the most part, automotive repair has been their entire life.
“The thing about this type of business is that everybody builds race cars. We don’t build race cars,” Harold said.
“We fix them,” Pete added.
“We fix them,” Harold picked back up, “but we wanted something more family oriented. Family cars. For the last 42 years, that’s more or less what we did. This was a living.”
And, Pete said, their four decades in business was a great experience.
“We’ve seen a whole lot, did a whole lot — everything positive,” he said.
On Jan. 21, a retirement reception was held in their honor. Mayor Pro Tem Ingrid Holmes was in attendance to read a proclamation issued by Mayor Thurman Bartie declaring it Peter Manuel and Harold Manuel Day.
“For more than 42 years, Pete and Harold’s have been an integral part of the African American community; and…we thank Peter and Harold Manuel for providing excellent services and a continued presence in our great city,” the document states.
“It went so fast ‘til it ain’t even funny anymore,” Harold said.
Before they could leave for new places, whether holy or hot, they had to sell the business.
“It was time,” Harold said. “Old bones start cracking; old bones tell you it’s time to get out of here. You don’t want anybody to come pick you up out of here. Do something while you’re still living.”
And he’s OK leaving it all behind.
“Not me, not really,” he said when asked if he’ll miss the business. “I can’t say for Pete. I won’t miss anything because I’ll be too busy.”
Pete was in agreement.
“I have a very active life,” he said. “I have a job, and I have one here if I want to take it.”
Rudy Deniz, formerly the head mechanic at Modica Bros. in Nederland, is the new owner of the business.
“Rudy is the one that bought it, so God bless him. And he started out at buying a business at 65. I said, ‘Something’s wrong with you,’” Harold joked.
But for Rudy, seeing the “for sale” sign was fate.
“This has been my dream since I started fixing cars, to become a self-provider,” he said. “This is it. Mr. Pete and Mr. Harold gave me the opportunity.”
Pete said Rudy was sent by God.
“We had never met him, but he’s a friend,” he said. “We communicate and will come by and help if he needs help.”
“They really do help me a lot,” Rudy said.
And while Harold is happy to help, he no longer sees it as work.
“I have the perfect job,” he said. “I don’t work anymore.”