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Five Mexican-Food Empires Started By Americans Ripping Off Unnamed Mexicans

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One of the few cases in Mexican-food history in the US where a Mexi wasn't ripped off by gabachos...

Michelle posted earlier today about how the man credited with creating Fritos, former Frito-Lay executive, Arch West, just passed away in Dallas. First thing I told her? "The origin story for Doritos IS A LIE!!!"

The story goes, according to West's daughter, that the family was on vacation in San Diego and "he stumbled on some little shack where they were making some interesting kind of chip." The story is a crock--but you're going to have to wait for my book on the history of Mexican food in the United States (out April 10, 2012!) for the full story.

For the purposes of this post, what interested me most about the quote was the attribution of West's discovery to an unnamed "little shack." It's the latest example of the same story told again and again in the annals of Mexican-food history in the United States: an entrepreneurial gabacho stumbles into a Mexican restaurant, finds a product that entices him, gets "inspired" by it, and proceeds to make millions of dollars off of the product. To paraphrase Joseph Campbell, it's The Dumb Mexican with a Thousand Nameless Faces--these origin myths never disclose who the ripped-off Mexican in question is (although there is always one specific person, as opposed to general inspiration from Mexicans), always refer to the run-down restaurant from whence the genius gabacho got the idea, and leaves the Mexican in the dustbin of history. It's part Black Legend, part Manifest Destiny, and all latent racism, baby. Don't believe me? Consider four other official origin stories behind Mexican-food behemoths, and ask yourself: why no full telling of the tale?

4. Rubio's

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Rubio's is rightfully credited with introducing the fish taco to mainstream America, but where did Ralph Rubio get the idea for them? All the company's website states is that "As a college student, Ralph made regular pilgrimages to Mexico's best beaches to surf, sun and socialize. It was on one of these trips that Ralph sat down at a seaside taqueria and met his true love. After just one bite, he was hooked." What's the name of the taqueria, Ralph? What town? He's never said. Hey, at least the Wahoo's brothers say they got the idea for their business from eating nothing but fish tacos while down in Baja.

3. Fritos
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Fritos are such a part of America today that most people don't realize that Fritos Co. founder Charles Elmer Doolin bought the idea for them from a Mexican during the 1930s. "He met a man from San Antonio selling fried corn chips," reads the company's website. "[Doolin] offered him $100 for the recipe." Who was the man? Frito-Lay doesn't say, but the crazy thing is that the man's name is out there and confirmed by Doolin's daughter, Kaleeta, in her recent bio of her dad. Why not name the man, Frito-Lay? Right--because when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

2. Chipotle
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I interviewed Chipotle founder Steve Ells for my book, knowing full well his foundation myth: while working in San Francisco in the early 1990s, Ells was introduced to the Mission-style burritos of the city. I asked him which taqueria (quick aside for us non-SanFraners: in the citys lingo, a taquería actually specializes in burritos and not tacos. Those crazy hippies!) in particular "inspired" him, and he pleaded amnesia, which I found to be a bullshit answer. Anyone who's eaten at a taquería in the Mission quickly remembers the great ones, and adopts a specific one as their own (my favorite: El Castillito). No way Ells magically forgot which one, especially since most of them have been around decades. Why not spill the black beans and cilantro-lime rice, Steve?

1. Taco Bell
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But the worst culprit in this group by far is Glen Bell, the founder of Taco Bell. In his self-published biography, Taco Titan: The Glen Bell Story, Bell tells his biographer that he got the idea for selling tacos from a Mexican restaurant in the Inland Empire. He'd eat there again and again, always asking the owners how they made their tacos, and would promptly return to his hot dog stand and try to replicate the recipe. Bell never named the restaurant, but I found it, and the owners aren't really happy with Bell--details to come in the book, of course...

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53 comments
Thehunters
Thehunters

This is the most poorly written blog I have ever read. Get off you high horse and write something worth reading. A guy with your low IQ should have a low voice and never be heard. Keep Talking, someday you'll say something intelligent.

RC58-coulter
RC58-coulter

john wayne,1'st cowboy? french fries in texas? corn chips in every state? LIFE IS SOOO UNFAIR! or is it?

Jj
Jj

The book that explains very well why Euro(peon)s are as they are is"The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors" by Dr. Francis Cress Welsing

Adelita M.
Adelita M.

No le hagas caso Gustavo...ademas I love learning, especially learning about our cultura and the history of the Mexican/Mexican-American/Chicano history...if it wasn't for you Gustavo and the many people that contribute to this, many of the population and even the Latino population in the US would not be aware of all the information that you bring to the surface.  I appreciate all you have done for our culture Gustavo, as well as your fellow colleagues...gracias!  P.S. thanks for the bit of history on tamales being the "original street food"...liked it very much! and hope to see you at the events...

jonathan
jonathan

The guy who died was credited with inventing Doritos, not Fritos ...

mitch young
mitch young

Such a basic mistake, from Gustavo...no way!

Maxcaviar
Maxcaviar

oc weekly, always going out of your way to hate the country that lets you run your lispy yaps.  and i suppose the folks that make money in other countries selling buffalo hot wings somehow flew under your radar.  the fact is, if someone is better at marketing, they sell more and get more notoriety. 

909Jeff
909Jeff

On the LineOn the Line: Gloria Mogollon of Franco's Pasta Cucina, Part OneFrom the pages of your own paper. Mogollon is of Spanish origin Most recently related to the Mogollon region in Mexico del Norte... spreading into Nuevo Mexico.

I'm not seeing any Italian outrage.  Enjoyed the article though.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Now YOU get to tell us what's your problem with demanding a full view of history!

909Jeff
909Jeff

I just thought it was funny that not one day after this column was printed another column, albeit, by another author, featured a female Mexican cooking Italian.  See the humor... Thats all. 

VatoLoco
VatoLoco

God your pathetic Gustavo

Gabbyglez
Gabbyglez

I think the word you might be looking for is 'you're.'  As a matter of fact, shouldn't your comment read God!  You're pathetic Gustavo. 

For you and everyone else who's trolling: remember that your grammar makes or breaks the message you're trying to get across.  It really communicates what kind of person you are (probably ignorant and bien pendejo).

Jdizzy
Jdizzy

and people like you who troll the comment section pointing out grammatical errors are childish at best...

Christian Z.
Christian Z. like.author.displayName 1 Like

Don't get me started on Chipotle.

mexicans es muy stupido
mexicans es muy stupido

it must eat at gus that the whites and asians made that slop mexicans eat into successful franchise.. once again, mexicans are OWNED!! lol... how does it feel to always be a step slower than the rest of the world.. pinche pendejos

Gerry
Gerry

Kinda like the Chinese inventing PASTA(spaghetti) & the ITALIANS getting & taking all the credit.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

That you use CAPS speaks volumes about your rationale.

Listen2
Listen2

I don't have a problem with these so called Mexican fast food chains because I don't eat the stuff.  Taco Bell is awful as are those other places.  If I eat at a Mexican restuarant, it had better be good otherwise, I eat at home when I want Mexican food.

El locoloco
El locoloco

all these formulas were stolen from rick bayless!

mitch young
mitch young

Cold, man, hitting Gustavo where it hurts.

eatTX
eatTX

Is your book coming out in ebook format for download on iTunes?

liberals are hypocrites
liberals are hypocrites

hahaha.. messicans es muy flojo.. they would rather drink their tecate beer and bitch about the raiiiiders to actually do some work...

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Great...here comes the skinhead trolls from Navel Gazing...

Mebab
Mebab

I think your racist.

Huitla - coochie
Huitla - coochie

So your point is whitey stole your cocina from you and didn't give you credit?  Possiblamente but why pave the way for a lawsuit by giving some Taco bender an avenue to sue?  The fact is that Gabachos think bigger and while the mexi is trying to borrow 5 grand from familia to expand a few tables, the white debbil is borrowing 50K to develop a franchise deal.

Complain all you want, its the mindset that wins.

Add insult to injury?  Consider Carlos Slim, lebanese second generation, started from nothing, now the world's richest man.  Its not the tortilla you're wrapped in, it's the carne adentro.

La Cumbre in its day was the mero mero in the Mish.

AG
AG

Perhaps you maybe right about  SOME thinking bigger but when banks don't give you those 50K loans maybe the familia is all you have.  Regardless, there are a lot of great restaurants out there that are doing well without being a franchise.  Your BS comment only continues the myth that Anglos are superior to others.  I wish non thinkers like you would restrict their put downs to their own family because it is obvious that is where you learned your values from.    

909Jeff
909Jeff

Anyone who's eaten at a taquería in the Mission quickly remembers the great ones, and adopts a specific one as their own (my favorite: El Castillito).

Mine is Los Hermanos on Chestnut in the Marina.

909Jeff
909Jeff

What do you think about Don Jose's and Ricardos?

What about the Boiling Crab?

What about one of the winners of the winner of the Dana Point bbq contest Slap yo Daddy? 

Carrion Fairy
Carrion Fairy

I totally believe in giving credit where credit is due, but, unfortunately, this is the natural process of all art whether it be food, music, photography, etc.  

Carlos Almendárez
Carlos Almendárez

Interesting post. Definitely something to think about but would have been interesting to find out who those nameless Mexicans were (though I understand why the founders wouldn't reveal their names). I didn't see it as much as a white man steals our ideas post as much as drawing "inspiration" from others and seizing on those opportunities. White people do it to white people and any other type of person or industry all the time (corporate espionage). Microsoft copies Apple, Apple copies twitter, Facebook copies LinkedIn. People copy. It's corporate America for better or worse. 

Jack
Jack

"People copy. It's corporate America for better or worse.: I would say 'people copy'.

Sam
Sam

Is it possible that in some cases, the "winner" is afraid of a lawsuit or at least having to pay someone off?

20ftJesus
20ftJesus

More victim stories..."the evil white man steals all our best ideas...whaaa whaaa whaaaa!"

mitch young
mitch young

I've never encountered anything close to a 'Taco Bell' taco and certainly not a 'Frito' in Mexico or any of the 'authentic' places here in the US. Ditto for Del Taco style burritos. So these were not acts of 'ripping off', but rather reinterpretation. 

Seriously, who turns food into ethnic grievance? Did der Weinerschniztel 'rip off' some un=named German who brought the Frankfurter -- as my folks still call them sometimes -- to the US, and shouldn't they be selling breaded veal cutlets anyway? Did all those 'torta' places not only steal the 'Milanesa' from some European, but incorrectly name it?

Oh, and who was the "nameless Spaniard" that introduced sus scrofa to Mexco so that you people could stop eating scum-cakes and longpork. 

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Between you and 20ft, you give our blogs enough bitching to take up a lifetime. 20ft, however, and even your other skinhead buddy 909Jeff, have at least shown they can discuss food without their usual stupidities; you, on the other hand, never will. Congrats on making yourself even more irrelevant!

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Please tell the adults in the room why histories should be incomplete.

20ftJesus
20ftJesus

Your stories are not about history; rather, constant reminders that Mexicans are forever being cheated by white people.  How 'bout writing your next article about 4 Mexican foods or restaurants where the Mexican is the hero (instead of the victim). 

Everyone in your article had a fair chance to succeed; they didn't; they failed to execute.  Besides, there's a lot more to success (like hard work) then just a taco or burrito recipe. 

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Didn't answer the question again! For all your whining about me whining, you gotta look in the pot, son!

20ftJesus
20ftJesus

The Cano story is a positive example of what we need more of -- inspirational stories versus anthologies of Mexican oppression.  

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Didn't answer the question—typical...and your standards are hilarious. Where were your comments when I did the cover on Larry Cano of El Torito fame? Yep—like your rationale, nowhere...

QueerInMySoup.com
QueerInMySoup.com

What about Wahoo's?  

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Read the story!

QueerInMySoup.com
QueerInMySoup.com

Whoops, sorry.... ok, I scanned to fast and thought you were referring to Ralph.

mitch young
mitch young

"Hey, at least the Wahoo's brothers say they got the idea for their business from eating nothing but fish tacos while down in Baja."

I don't get it, Ralph Rubio says he ate fish tacos in Mexico, but is a 'thief' because he doesn't name the place. The wahoo guys name a place all right -- an entire peninsula -- but mothing specific and no name. And they are heros, they get a pass cuz they are non-white.

Gustavo just hates white people -- or even people named 'blond'.

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