Fifty years ago in North Texas, an idea was born that would transform happy hours around the world.
Just after Cinco de Mayo in 1971, a young restaurant owner named Mariano Martinez found himself frustrated and overwhelmed. While the margarita drink was popular with guests at his restaurant, Mariano's Hacienda in North Dallas, it wasn’t with the bar staff. They couldn't keep up with the limes, the tequila and the Cointreau—and a blender that continued to fail as they mixed the frosty concoction. Both the machine and the staff were throwing in the towel.
When yet another blender failed in the restaurant, a bartender had to run home to his apartment to get his own to replace it, and he threatened his resignation to Martinez. Meanwhile, Martinez was taking complaints from guests who disliked the decreasing quality of the drinks as the night went on. It was a bad night for the fledgling restaurateur.
On his way home that night, Martinez made a quick stop at a 7-Eleven convenience store.
"I said, 'You know, if I had a package of gum and coffee, I'd be OK.’ And that's when I saw the Slurpee machine—and the light bulb went off," Mariano said. "And I said, 'Aye caramba....that's a great idea!'" With a few modifications, Martinez brought the machine into his restaurant to produce the popular margaritas, launching happy hour as well know (and love) it.
"That machine changed happy hour forever!" he said, referring to his original model, which now resides in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
While the original machine is no longer in Texas, the status it brought to North Texas dining, to Tex-Mex cuisine, and to Mariano Martinez is legendary.
“It saved my original restaurant from going out of business, which has been in operation for 50 years now with 100+ employees, and we have paid millions of dollars in taxes,” he said of his invention’s impact on the DFW area. Today, Martinez runs a successful restaurant empire that includes five restaurants and more than 600 employees.
On a larger scale, the frozen margarita machine allowed many small family-owned restaurants that could not afford a bartender to serve consistently high quality frozen margaritas by just pulling a lever, he said.
“It has brought fame to the state of Texas for creating the most popular cocktail on the planet, surpassing the martini in the early 1970’s and helping to make chips, salsa and margaritas the ubiquitous happy hour favorite,” Martinez said. “It helped make Tex-Mex food popular coast to coast and beyond.”
And we’ll drink to that.