GREENVILLE, Miss. (AP) - Years of dedication and hard work finally forced this Hot Tamale Machine into retirement.
It wasn’t just the typical run-of-the-mill hot tamale machine either as it didn’t make just any hot tamale. It made a name for itself after producing Doe’s Eat Place’s famous hot tamales, enjoyed by locals and visitors to the Delta, alike.
The late Dominick “Doe” Signa, who opened the restaurant with his wife, Mamie, in 1941, purchased this Hot Tamale Machine in 1950.
“That was the first electric machine that daddy got,” said Charles Signa, who now owns the restaurant with other family members. “He got it from San Antonio, Texas. Before that machine, they were making the tamales by hand.”
It put in more than 50 years of labor, producing, he estimated, more than 14 million hot tamales.
But in 2006, it retired - though it still works, Signa said - and sat in the front kitchen of the restaurant, often overlooked by the restaurant’s regular customers and many visitors.
Today, the Hot Tamale Machine - which is rather large with two metal tubes, used for holding the corn meal, ground beef and Doe’s secret formula, and a long conveyer belt - has found a new home inside the Greenville History Museum, where it’s nearly impossible for visitors to overlook it.
Benjy Nelken, curator of the museum, said he was more than thrilled to add it to his collection of iconic Greenville pieces after talking to “Baby” Doe Signa, Charles’ nephew. The nephew said there was no longer room for it in the original Nelson Street restaurant, which isn’t all that big for the many customers who walk through the entrance, greeted by a grill, before being seated in the kitchen area or in one of the two dining rooms.
Signa’s main concern, Nelken said, was he wasn’t ready to completely let it go.
“I said bring it on over,” he said, adding he still has memories of watching the machine push the tamales out of the spout and stream them down the conveyer belt.
“I remember going to Doe’s one afternoon, and it was running. They had about 70 people sitting at tables, wrapping them in shucks. It looked like a factory, an industry. I remember thinking, ‘I didn’t know Doe’s employed so many people,’” he said.
With Greenville being dubbed the Hot Tamale Capital of the world, the co-chairmen of the Delta Hot Tamale Festival said they appreciate the Signas donating the machine to the museum for public display.
“This is a piece of history, of Greenville history and hot tamale history,” said Anne Martin, one of the three chairmen of the festival.
The machine, covered in dust and grease, with remnants of tamales in the tubes on the plunger, will be a draw for visitors to the festival, co-chairman Valerie Lee said, adding that the machine will also bring people into the Greenville History Museum, giving them yet another opportunity to explore the city’s rich history.
“We thought people would enjoy looking at Doe’s old machine,” Signa said.