Dallas restaurant proprietor recollects life in Texas BT – Earlier than Tex-Mex – Texas Month-to-month
Dallas restaurateur Mariano Martinez is known for inventing the frozen margarita machine in 1971, however he remembers how troublesome it was for a restaurant to achieve success promoting solely Mexican meals when he was rising up in Dallas. Many additionally served spaghetti and meatballs, simply to remain afloat. Martinez needed to alter that.
I used to be born in 1944 in Little Mexico, situated simply north of downtown Dallas. At the moment, within the forties and earlier than, Mexican eating places typically had lots of Anglo-Saxon clients. They served fried rooster steaks, fried rooster, spaghetti and meatballs, mashed potatoes, inexperienced beans, rolls. In fact, additionally they provided primary Mexican fare like enchiladas with chili sauce and tamales, however you could not cost loads – anticipated to be low cost. And it wasn’t referred to as Tex-Mex again then, simply Mexican meals. In actual fact, some Anglos thought the time period “Mexican” was offensive, so that they stated, “Oh, we love Spanish meals.”
The Mexican inhabitants of Dallas was small, but it surely produced two influential chains, El Fenix (based in 1918) and El Chico (in 1940). Each nonetheless exist. Martinez additionally discovered about meals from each side of his household.
“I’ve fond recollections of gong in El Fenix and seeing the tortilla girls making flour tortillas by hand. They had been carrying colourful costumes, and when you had been a child you could possibly go up and watch and they might provide you with a bit of ball of raw masa. You may eat it or deliver it again to the desk and play with it – roll it up in a bit of snowman or one thing. It was instructional for Anglo kids. The women tortillas shared a craft product that was a part of their tradition.
I grew up with my grandmother’s cooking. She was from Kaufman, East Texas, and my great-grandmother made tamales on the Kaufman County Honest. My father, who labored as a restaurant supervisor, was from San Antonio. He was cook dinner and taster. He knew these flavors of San Antonio and his chili con carne was as soon as offered on the State Honest of Texas. I exploit this recipe to today. I assume my meals is a mixture of East Texas fashion and San Antonio fashion. Mexican delicacies was not as well-liked then as it’s in the present day. Within the 60s and 70s, many Anglos ate Mexican meals as soon as a month. Then it needed to be twice a month.
When Martinez determined to open his first restaurant in 1971, when he was in his twenties, he needed to make it as upscale as potential on a finances. He has utilized for a mortgage from the small enterprise administration greater than as soon as.
I used to be turned down by eleven banks earlier than I lastly bought a mortgage. Each mortgage officer I spoke to advised me the identical factor, ‘Oh, we took out a restaurant mortgage in 1952 and we misplaced our ass. We’ll by no means do this once more. Lastly, the president of a financial institution did it as a result of he liked me. He preferred the concepts and thought it might be good for the financial institution – that they had lots of minority depositors however hadn’t made minority loans. So I bought an SBA mortgage of $ 100,000, plus $ 500 by promoting all of my musical devices and tools from the band I used to be in. I rented house within the outdated city within the village, which was a brand new purchasing heart on the time. There have been lots of excessive earnings singles dwelling there. Once I was within the group, I had discovered loads about lighting, make-up and ambiance in nightclubs, nation golf equipment and events. I made Mariano’s Mexican delicacies the complete package deal. Whenever you walked in it appeared like an outside patio in Mexico with mountains within the background. I used blue lighting for the moonlight. There was a tree trunk inside that solid shadows to assist with realism. And there was background music.
I did not have some huge cash so we had been ingenious. I discovered a rug retailer promoting items of shag rugs in numerous colours and we put them within the canteen. (When tortilla chips fell on the mat, we used backyard rakes to drag them out.) Subsequent, we took the cardboard tubes from the mat rolls, lower them in half lengthwise, and painted them to appear to be weathered Mexican tiles.
Along with enhancing the temper, he additionally needed to boost the meals.
I did not lower corners within the kitchen. My grandmother’s unique recipes had been fairly primary – some simply stated “a handful of this and that,” so the outcomes trusted the dimensions of your hand. We measured the components precisely. And we did not simply purchase “chili meat”. I requested my dad what was the most effective combine. He stated 80 p.c lean, 20 p.c fats. And we used Wisconsin cheddar aged between thirty and ninety days. I selected the identify of Mariano’s Mexican Cooked, not “cafe” or “casita”. Individuals would say, “Kitchen? It is a bit of a French phrase, is not it? Mariano’s was Dallas’ costliest Mexican restaurant when it first opened. Clients would inform me, “After we go to El Chico or El Fenix, we take the youngsters and go away early. After we go to Mariano’s we have now a babysitter, we have now frozen margaritas within the cantina, a chic dinner within the eating room, after which we return to the cantina for a blazing espresso or an aperitif. We’ve helped shatter the picture of low cost Mexican meals in Dallas. “
Mariano Martinez at present owns 5 places of two restaurant ideas – Mariano’s Hacienda and La Hacienda Ranch—in Addison, Colleyville, Dallas and Frisco. This interview has been edited for readability and size.