It’s worth noting that two innovations that transformed the bartending industry were birthed by musicians. The first was the Waring Blender, named for famous Big Band Era bandleader Fred Waring. The second was created as a solution to a shortcoming of the first. On May 11, 1971, Mariano Martinez debuted his first frozen margarita machine at Mariano’s Hacienda, his Dallas Tex-Mex restaurant. The margarita was changed forever, and the machine became part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History—right next to Julia Childs’ kitchen.
The young Martinez had his sights set on a music career.
“I grew up as a Mexican American who didn’t fit in the all-white neighborhood my family lived in,” Martinez says. “Many of us strapped on a guitar—then you’re not just a nobody anymore.” As a bass player, the determined entrepreneur shared stages with some of the biggest names of his era: Chuck Berry, the Drifters, B.B. King and Jimmy Reed. He counted the late Trini Lopez among his closest friends. Even today, his conversation is filled with musical metaphors.
The margarita is one of the world’s most popular cocktails. Several have laid claim to inventing the classic mixture of tequila, lime juice and orange liqueur, served in a salt-rimmed glass, but when it comes to the frozen variety—those with the consistency of a 7-11 Slurpee—its innovator is unquestioned: Mariano Martinez.
“When I opened my first restaurant, I used my father’s margarita recipe. Bartenders were using a blender. They lacked consistency. I learned a lot about the restaurant biz from music,” Martinez says. “I would compare my approach to business to the Eagles. At concerts, they perform every song like the recording. Exactly. That’s what I like. I’ve been in this biz almost 50 years. Consistency is key. But with high quality. Like the Eagles or Bruce Springsteen.”
As the new kid in town, Martinez realized that to succeed, he needed a way to standardize his cocktail—so each would be exactly alike.
He was struck with inspiration by the 7-11 Slurpee machines.
“What if I could use one of those to make margaritas?” he wondered. When he approached the company about purchasing one, he was rebuffed. “The guy also told me, ‘you can’t freeze alcohol anyway.’ Instead, I got a soft serve ice cream machine, souped it up and tinkered with the recipe,” Martinez shares. “I found that with a little more sugar, the drink froze.”
It was an instant hit.
“I didn’t dawn on me that I had invented anything except a way to make consistent margaritas,” he explains. As a result, he did not apply for a patent.
Another passion of Martinez’—golf—led him to make Pebble Beach his second home.
“I put everything I’ve got into everything I do,” he says. “When I took up golf, I didn’t care what the score was. I’m five foot six and I wanted to hit the ball as far or father than the big guys.”
Martinez and his wife Wanda purchased a home in Pebble and transformed it into “Casa del Cerro” (House on the Hill), the sublime home that became the Martinez’ West Coast retreat.
“I’ve spent my lifetime playing in bands and being the front man in my restaurants—pumping hands, making sure everyone’s happy—after a while you want to find a place to hide,” he says. He found that at Casa del Cerro. Unsurprisingly for a man’s whose legacy revolves around the frozen margarita, the home’s landscaping is dominated by blue agave plants.
Today, Martinez’ empire has grown to five restaurants; he’s not even thinking about retirement. “I’m constantly working. I never stop,” he says.
And that first margarita machine?
“It’s on permanent display at the Smithsonian,” Martinez says. “That’s a big deal. They own millions of objects but less than two percent are on display.”
Aside from being a museum piece, the device has had a lasting effect.
“My innovation was to make five-gallon batches of margaritas in precise proportions,” Martinez explains. “I think it revolutionized the hospitality industry.”
His early dream was to be Paul McCartney, but, he says, “I’ll settle for being Mariano Martinez, the man who invented the frozen margarita machine.”