Happy Birthday! Frozen Margarita Machine Turns 50

Texans -- and the world -- can thank Dallas restaurateur Mariano Martinez

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Did you know the frozen margarita machine turns 50 this month?

It’s a milestone moment for Dallas restaurateur Mariano Martinez credited with creating the first frozen margarita machine.

As he’s told NBC 5 over the years the idea came after hearing customers complain about being served watered-down margaritas at the original Mariano’s location on Greenville Avenue in Dallas back in 1971.

“We had a very popular restaurant and we couldn’t keep up with the demand of the margarita,” Mariano said. “And they were complaining they were inconsistent and they weren’t cold.”

The idea for the frozen margarita machine came after he stopped for coffee after a rough night at the restaurant.

NBC 5 News
Mariano Martinez invented the frozen margarita machine.

“One day I was in a 7-Eleven store and I saw kids buy a Slurpee and it’s what gave me the idea. I said ‘Hey, I wonder if you could freeze a margarita in a Slurpee type of machine?”

Turns out you could. Mariano purchased a soft-serve ice cream machine, tinkered with it, and on May 11, 1971, pulled the lever, and out came Mariano's signature slushy green frozen margarita.

The invention was a game-changer for Mariano, the tequila industry and bars and restaurants nationwide.

His original machine is now on loan to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.

Safe to say the frozen margarita is beloved by Texans.

“I was thinking about why we love it so much and it is so approachable,” said Dallas Morning News Food Writer Sarah Blaskovich. “There’s something about a frozen margarita. It’s an adult Slurpee, ya know, with some alcohol in it. And the margarita, of course, is a tequila cocktail made with a spirit that our neighbors in Mexico made. So I like to think that Texans like specifically the margarita and other tequila cocktails because tequila comes from close to home.”

The Texas heat and mostly year-round patio weather may have fueled the drink’s popularity.

“It seems like a drink you should drink outdoors and like I said, it’s like an adult Slurpee. It’s hot outside in Texas, you’re sitting outside and you want something super cold,” Blaskovich said. “I love that you can get margaritas by the pitcher. You can’t get every cocktail by the pitcher, nor should you, need a whole vat, but it’s super shareable in an era where we’re comfortable sharing again.”

Margaritas also helped the restaurant industry survive a rocky 2020. Many sold margaritas-to-go as a way to stay afloat during the pandemic shutdown.

“It’s comfort food, it’s comfort drink,” Blaskovich said. “We needed things that made us feel happy and I think a lot of people ordered them but we saw that non-Tex-Mex, non-Mexican restaurants also started selling margaritas. It was just another thing you could take home and another way they could make money.” 

“There is one restaurateur who runs upscale Italian restaurants – nothing to do with chips and salsa and margaritas. He started a standalone restaurant called Ritas and Queso’ and all they did was deliver margaritas and queso to your front doorstep. It was delivery only. I had a baby during the pandemic and one of my girlfriends sent me Ritas and Queso – the experience of opening my front door and unexpectedly finding a half-gallon of margaritas and warm queso with chips on my front doorsteps. There’s nothing better in the world, right?”

So go ahead and celebrate the frozen margarita’s birthday!

Give a toast to Mariano Martinez and his big idea and thank the drink that helped Texans survive 2020.

Fifty never tasted so good.

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