10-10-05 - The modified soft-serve ice cream machine that a Dallas restaurateur first used to mass-produce frozen margaritas has found its way to the Smithsonian.
The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History recently acquired the 34-year-old machine, adding it to a collection of cultural markers.
"I have a pretty fertile imagination. I have big dreams," said Mariano Martinez, owner of the Dallas restaurant Mariano Hacienda. "But this is beyond what I ever imagined."
In 1971, Martinez was just trying to run a restaurant, not become an inventor. But with a desire to create something to set his eatery apart and some inspiration from a Slurpee machine at a 7-Eleven, the frozen margarita machine was born.
"To us, it's a story about American innovation and entrepreneurial spirit," said Rayna Green, curator of the National Museum of American History. "And it coincides with the very interesting story of Tex-Mex becoming a phenomenon."
Martinez's father, also a restaurant owner, sometimes made frozen margaritas in a blender for his patrons. Tequila was hard to come by at the time and margaritas were exotic, something mainly consumed on vacation in Mexico.
So Martinez thought such a drink would help his restaurant stand out. The only problem was that bartenders at Mariano's couldn't squeeze enough limes or blend the drinks fast enough. Also, customers complained the drink was inconsistent and not even cold.
"I saw my dream evaporating," Martinez said. "This was my one shot at being somebody."
But with the epiphany at the 7-Eleven, he acquired a soft-serve ice cream machine and started mixing.
"The challenge was to make each drink taste like a blender margarita," he said. "We kept experimenting and tasting."
"It became an instant success," he said. "We didn't have to sell it."
Martinez never got a patent for his margarita machine, so copycats quickly surfaced.
But Green said there's no doubt where the credit belongs. Museum officials spent more than a year researching the history of the frozen margarita and verifying its origins.
The margarita machine was sent off to the Smithsonian two weeks ago. For now it's in storage there, but Green said she is hopeful that it will be shown in a future exhibit.