Tucson Tamale Company's owner Todd Martin found his passion making tamales 20 years ago and now operates three restaurant locations around the city. We found out how the company began, his favorite tamales, what he would be doing if he didn't own the business and much more!
When did you start making tamales?
In September 1995, my girlfriend (now wife) invited me to her parents’ house to make tamales. I thought we would be there for a few hours and then move on to our real Saturday business. We arrived at Celia and Harold’s house at 9 am and to my astonishment, there were 20 people (family and friends), five bushels of corn and five cases of beer. I knew this was not going to be a three-hour visit. Ten hours and 75 dozen tamales later, we called it a day. Tamales were now something I knew how to make; I was so inspired by the process and the possibilities.
From your extensive menu at Tucson Tamale Co., which are your favorites and what ingredients are in them?
Okay, who’s your favorite child? How can I answer this? I’ve created over 50 different tamales (not all are on the menu at any one time); they all have a place in my heart. But, if you promise not to tell the other tamales, I do have a few that I consume on a regular basis. First is the Madison; it has spiced black beans, organic corn, a touch of fresh OJ and some cheese all wrapped inside red-chile masa. My other favorite is in some ways my “firstborn” because it was the one that inspired this adventure almost 20 years ago. The green corn tamale is sweet corn mixed with the organic-corn masa, roasted hatch-green chiles and cheese, all blended into a heavenly pillow of tamale goodness. I have at least three each every week, along with a few others.
Does Tucson Tamale Co. work with any locally sourced products?
We always look first to support local when we can. Our main ingredient, non-GMO organic corn, is not available locally, however. We offer a few local products on our menu—Isabella’s Ice Cream and Iron John’s beer. We’ve also had the opportunity to collaborate with some local chefs to offer custom tamales on their menu—we’re pretty proud of that.
What do you love most about running a tamale business in Tucson?
Duh, tamales! Seriously, running our own business in our community is rewarding on so many levels. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to work with folks who are excited about their lives and their path and have chosen to make Tucson Tamale a part of it. As a small business, we get the opportunity to interact directly with our customers, many of whom have turned into great friends of ours. Everyone who walks through the door has a story. We get a lot of out-of-town visitors and feel that we are Tucson ambassadors—recommending places for customers to visit to experience Tucson. Being a part of the Tucson business community is so incredible; everyone I know is here because they have such a passion for Tucson. I love them.
If you didn’t own and run Tucson Tamale Co., what else would you be doing?
Loaded question. I love the tamale business so much. I know that whatever I was doing, it would definitely be as an entrepreneur—I love the adventure of creating.
Other than making delicious tamales, do you have any other cool talents?
I’m the funniest person I know. While no one else thinks that, I know I’m right. I could have done dry-humor stand up. Totally.
What are your favorite restaurants in Tucson for locally sourced cuisine?
If you could travel anywhere in the world to eat and learn about a cuisine, where would you go?
We want to go to every country in the Americas. We have been all over Mexico and Costa Rica. The cuisines of Central and South America are fascinating to me. I have learned that there are as many nuances to Latin cuisines as there are to European cuisines. We have a plan to visit every Central and South American country and indulge in their flavors.
Do you have any children?
Our daughter Colette and son-in-law Chris will be having our first grandchild any day. We are so excited for them and super-excited to be grandparents. The kids live in Mesa (Phoenix area) and will be down to Tucson quite often. We’re excited to rediscover Tucson through a child’s eyes.
Todd Martin's Perfect Day in Tucson:
Morning: Share a fresh pot of French-press coffee with my wife Sherry while sitting on our patio and watch and listen to the birds. On the mornings when we are super-energetic, we may go for a hike up Tumamoc Hill before breakfast. Not for the faint of heart, but a good walk. We rarely get a chance to go out for breakfast, but when we do we head over to Teresa’s Mosaic Cafe and enjoy the chile chilaquiles with scrambled eggs and extra red-chile sauce.
Mid Morning: Check in at the restaurants, grab a green-corn tamale and some pinto beans, and head out to the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. It is my absolute favorite place in Tucson—everyone should experience it. It is truly a Tucson treasure.
Evening: Head downtown to relax and enjoy a great dinner. Question is, where to go? Ten years ago we had very few good restaurants downtown, now we have so many! We would go to Agustin Kitchen, sit at the community table and ask for the chef’s recommendation. We are adventurous and love what the chef recommends. After dinner we would head home and find an episode of one of our favorite shows to watch. The sigh you hear in the distance is me, celebrating a great day.