‘Corn King’ key for Mexican food industry
The origin of corn chips — a food so familiar and ubiquitous, it’s hard to imagine a time without them — has come up often as a topic of reader questions and answers, most recently April 15, 2017, in answer to an April 2, 2017, column about Facs Corn Chips, a brand started by former Fritos employee Fred A. Cunningham (the original F.A.C.) Among the responses was one from reader George Farias, who had a family connection to the ancestor of both Fritos and Facs.
Farias forwarded an article by his cousin, the late Roy G. Martinez, on “The Story of the Corn Chip,” which identified the first commercially produced corn chips as Tostadas, a brand made by B. Martinez and Sons Co. in its mills west of downtown San Antonio. The company, founded by the author’s grandfather, made corn flour and associated products, including tortillas, tamal meal, champurrado (chocolate drink) mix and — to use up every last speck of corn — corn chips cut in triangles and sold to restaurants to be served as appetizers and to consumers in 8ounce bags.
Another cousin of Martinez, who died in 2013, recently sent updates on the “Corn King,” as company founder José Bartolome Martinez was known. Norma R. Salinas also has been researching Bartolome Martinez for a booklet to share with fellow descendants and found an entry for “B. Martinez” in “A History of Texas and Texans” by Francis White Johnson, published in 1914 by the American Historical Society.
The biographical reference book identifies Martinez as a business pioneer for his founding in San Antonio of “the first mill for the grinding of masa, a product which is the basis for the popular Mexican bread known as tortillas.” ( Johnson notes that “it is well-known that full 90 percent of the Mexican people prefer tortillas as food.”) Established in 1896, “with an initial capital of $500, the B. Martinez company’s first mill opened at 615 Dolorosa St. as the third of only three such businesses in North America, the other two both in Mexico (Monterrey and Mexico City).
A second Martinez mill on Medina and Colima streets, according to a fact sheet from Salinas, continued to grind masa until 1908, when production was switched to masolina, a dehydrated corn flour marketed as Tamalina. Besides its other corn products, the new plant could produce 60,000 pounds of corn chips a day, to be distributed locally and to southwest Texas and to be shipped by rail to “a much larger territory,” as stated in “A History of Texas and Texans.” It took a fleet of more than 20 wagons to distribute along 25 delivery routes in San Antonio alone.
Without Martinez’s business, through which he became one of the largest buyers of corn in the U.S. — “Mexican restaurants couldn’t have functioned when you think about all the items that are made from tortillas and masa, such as chalupas, chips for dips, enchiladas and tamales, just to name a few,” Salinas wrote. “In the early 1900s, it was not costeffective for people to make masa for their restaurants due to the cost and difficulty of keeping masa from spoiling. So the introduction of Tamalina (dehydrated masa) and the establishment of his three mills (another at 701 S. Leona St. was destroyed by fire) may have been an essential factor in the development of the Mexican food industry in San
I’m compiling a book about San Antonio music, to be titled “Hometown Heroes,” and I have a lot of photos but need a few more. Specifically, I’m looking for exterior photos of the Avalon Grill on East Commerce Street; the Barn dancehall; the Bijou, Home and the Scotchman’s Club on San Pedro Avenue; the Blue Note Lounge on Blanco Road; the Black Orchid Lounge, 120 N. New Braunfels Ave.; Boneshakers Bicycle Pub on 116 W. Mitchell St., the Cadillac, a basement club, 321 Navarro St.; Canal Street, 9503 Console Drive; Chicken Plantation (closed in 1930);
Club B’wana Dik on the River
Walk; Club Ebony, 3550 Nebraska St.; Dragon Lady, 201 W. Travis St.; the Eastwood Country Club on the East Side; the Elbow Room, Mind’s Eye and Rialto Grill (aka the Bean Pot) on Austin Highway; Gus’s
Palm Garden; the Keyhole No. 1 at 728 Iowa St. at Pine Street; Li’l Hut on the Eastside; Love Street Light Circus on Commerce Street near the Tower of the Americas; Mann’s Hoedown on Highway 16 South; Melody Ranch on Roosevelt Avenue; Melody Ranch on Roosevelt, the Merry-Go-Round/My Place restaurant, 7114 Blanco; Republic of Boko Maru, 5545 N.W. Loop 410; Monte Carlo Inn; the Red Carpet, the Rickshaw and Tiffany’s Lounge downtown; Serene Void Coffee House; Somerset Club; the Tea Pot blues club on Burleson Street; and Whiskey River Saloon at Estilo — Texas Style, 203 N. Presa St.
Surely in a town as historically conscious as this, somebody has photos of the fronts of these buildings.
— Hank Harrison
As you’ve no doubt already found out, publicity photos supplied by any of these music venues — dating from the 1920s onward — to local newspapers are unlikely to be kept because they were not shot by staff photographers and were sent regularly until the clubs closed or changed hands.
Anyone who can supply images of any of these clubs where touring celebrities or “hometown heroes” performed may send them to email@example.com. Photos may be featured in Harrison’s book with a courtesy credit to the sender.
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