Building An Empire

With a firm family foundation and a focus on the Golden Rule, Dr. Benjamin Vela does the family proud at Vela Dental Centers.
By: Sarah Tindall
Photos by: Dustin Ashcraft

Dr. Benjamin Vela has used the foundation of his father’s beloved local dental practice to build a dental empire in his hometown – not bad for the father/son team who represent the first generations of the family to attend college.

“My grandpa couldn’t speak English and didn’t finish middle school,” Vela says. “My grandmother, Katie, was the driving force behind the education of her children. Although they lived and worked on a dairy farm, Katie told them that education was the sure way to success and a better life.”

And her encouragement worked. Three of her five children went on to become doctors and eventually raise a new generation of doctors and lawyers. Dr. Rene Vela, Benjamin’s father, chose dental school and returned to South Texas after graduation in 1984 to serve the community in which he was raised. He and his brothers, Julio Vela, a gastroenterologist, and Robert Vela, an internal medicine specialist, built a building across from Spohn Memorial Hospital and set up shop.

“They developed a tremendous following over the years and have taken care of so many people in the area,” Vela says. “The family understanding was that education was a sure way of providing for our families and making a positive impact on our community. The brothers focused on a strong work ethic and treating people the right way. That’s how we like to do business: to treat people the way we’d like to be treated.”

Choosing dentistry was easy for Vela, who says he decided early on at 16 that this was the career for him. “Being a doctor was all I knew. I didn’t know what an engineer did. I hadn’t had much experience with many professions. I picked dentistry because, unlike my uncles, it allowed me to change lives while not having the pressure of saving them! I saw how my dad had enough time for us on weekends, hunting, traveling, etc. His ability to close the door at 5 and know he’d be back tomorrow appealed to me, and I also wanted to start a family after school was over, so the prospect of all those years in residency were not for me.

“But I knew getting into and finishing dental school was a rough ride, and I’d have to keep my grades up and work hard. But my dad challenged me to do it, and I enjoyed the challenge of it. I owe much of my success to my parents and uncles who led the way.”

And his hard work paid off. Vela graduated from King High School in 1999 and then went to Saint Mary’s in San Antonio and graduated in three years. During that time, he worked in his dad’s office, which he says solidified his career path. He was then accepted into the dental school at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, his dad’s alma mater. “It was kind of cool to go to the same school as my dad, and one of the top-ranked schools in the nation, as well,” Vela says. “It was difficult, but I was able to complete the requirements and graduated at 24 and moved back to Corpus Christi in 2006.”

The legacy has continued from the original Vela brothers, and now Corpus Christi has an attorney, an anesthesiologist, a dentist and an orthodontist with the Vela name. Also in the family are two other attorneys and two other doctors.

Dr. Ben, as he is often called to reduce confusion, started working alongside his dad at the original Vela Dental Center (Crosstown) at Cleo and Morgan. With the help of great mentorship, an intense experience, continuing education, a strong work ethic and natural ability, he quickly established his own set of patients after two years of working as an associate. In 2008, he spearheaded the opening of a second office on the south side. The patients were pleased, and with momentum behind them, a third office in Kingsville in 2009 opened. In just three short years, they turned a one-office operation into a Coastal Bend dental empire. In 2010, Vela bought into the practice and became a full partner.

Things were going great until his dad was injured, rendering him unable to practice for almost a year. But hard work and dedication won, and during his recuperation, they bought a fourth location in Alice. At the end of 2012, Vela bought his father out of three of the practices and sold him his half of the Alice location, so that each could focus solely on his own businesses and allow them to grow.

And “grow” is exactly what they’ve been doing. Vela now has 30 employees and three associate doctors, and he has experienced a steady increase in production at each location over the past year-and-a-half.

“What sets us apart is our customer service, efficiency and high quality,” Vela says. “We do our best to be available to our patients, and focus on our ability to convey what’s needed to them so they understand and feel comfortable. Patients love our entire team. Many of our employees speak Spanish, and all our patients appreciate our ability to let them know what they need in an honest, non-technical terminology, and we have many ways of helping patients get what they need done.

“We offer different financing options, including CareCredit, as well as making sure we’re in network for most insurance providers. We treat our patients the way we’d like to be treated. We see them in a reasonable amount of time with limited waiting periods, and we make sure our rates are completive and reasonable. We’re doing procedures that many patients used to go to San Antonio or Houston.”

That attitude of patient care has made Vela Dental a top provider of dental care in the area. In the past eight years, 25,000 patients have been treated between all the offices. This ensures that Vela and his doctors are some of the most experienced in Corpus Christi, as they have seen and treated almost all of the problems that can come up and know exactly how to best deal with them.

“After taking numerous continuing education courses and treating thousands of patients, I am confident we can treat and manage most cases, no matter how complex. We use excellent dental laboratories and materials to increase the success of treatment outcomes. If we are able to keep treatment in-house, this can save the patient literally thousands of dollars!”

Vela Dental is a full-service operation, with patients receiving everything from dental cleanings and X-rays to full mouth rehabilitation, including full sets of permanent teeth, crowns and implants.

Vela’s plan was to continue to grow, and another office was in the works, but then another tragedy struck when his 2-year-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. Vela, who learned from his father that family comes first, put everything on the back burner to be there for his daughter, who is on the road to recovery at Driscoll Children’s Hospital.

Instead of opening up new offices, Vela has remodeled the ones he has to facilitate more patients and improve their operation. He is looking to add more employees and doctors to meet current demand, recently adding 30-year local dental veteran Dr. Allan Ng to his practice.

“A lot of smiles depend on us, and we take that seriously,” Vela says. “A smile is the first thing people notice and can say quite a bit about that person. It’s so amazing literally changing people’s lives – taking people who haven’t been able to smile or chew in years and making that possible again. We like to make sure that all patients who experience us are able to leave happy – the Vela name has a great history and a great future, and we want to do the family proud.”

For more information about Vela Dental Centers, visit one of the following locations: 2201 Cleo St., Ste. B, on Crosstown; 4822 Holly Road on the south side; or 1015 E. Henrietta Ave. in Kingsville. You can also go online to www.veladental.com

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