Mariano Martinez didn’t set out to shake up the cocktail scene. In 1971, the owner of a new restaurant in Dallas, then called Mariano’s Mexican Cuisine, was trying to find a solution for a serious problem: His restaurant’s blender-made Margaritas kept coming out inconsistent. “We were trying to make frozen Margaritas in a blender, and we kept burning out the blenders as fast as we could buy them,” Martinez says.
Hearing complaints from his customers that their orders of rounds of this Mexican drink kept tasting different or weren’t cold enough, Martinez’s bartenders retorted that it was becoming too difficult to maintain the correct recipe measurements of Cointreau, tequila, simple syrup, and lime juice.
So Martinez had to come up with a resolution that would appease both his customers and his staff. The first possible answer came one morning after a sleepless night, when he went to get a cup of coffee at a 7-Eleven. He had an aha moment when taking notice of the chain’s famous Slurpee machine.
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Thinking that he could use this frozen slushy-making device to blend Margaritas at his restaurant, Martinez reached out to 7-Eleven’s headquarters to present his idea and inquire about purchasing a Slurpee machine. The corporate office turned him down, with higher-ups telling him that their machines wouldn’t be able to freeze alcohol.
So, Martinez found another option. He purchased a soft-serve ice cream machine and tinkered with it so that it could handle blending frozen drinks.
“I had to modify it like you’d do [with] a car,” says Martinez. He adjusted the machine’s motor so that its dasher would spin faster — creating the churning that agitates the machine to make Margaritas. He also added in a larger compressor to make the drinks colder.
“And so, through trial and error, we developed frozen Margaritas out of a machine. And they became a big hit,” he says.
While his new invention became an in-house success, Martinez chose not to patent it. “It didn’t seem like a big deal to me; I never intended to invent something,” he says. “I was just trying to make my customers happy. They were unhappy because there was a lack of consistency, and my bartenders were threatening to quit; they said it was too much work.” He’s not regretful about the decision, saying that, in a way, the machine had already existed — he simply altered it to suit a product other than ice cream.
But he is also proud of his invention’s impact. He noted that he has reveled in seeing numerous versions of his mechanical concept become a standard piece of bar equipment all over the world. He says “it’s been a real blessing” to see this piece of equipment not only become incorporated into big chain restaurants but also in mom-and-pop-owned establishments that “couldn’t afford to have a bartender.”
Then, the restaurateur earned another big accomplishment. Martinez’s original frozen Margarita machine, which he retired in the early 2000s, was acquired by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in 2005 as part of its “FOOD: Transforming the American Table” exhibition. The Smithsonian is currently closed due to Covid-19, but a picture and a description of the machine can be viewed on the museum’s website.
Prior to inventing the frozen Margarita machine, Martinez used his father’s Margarita recipe at his restaurant, which he later adapted for use in his new machine. “He always insisted on using Cointreau” as his triple sec of choice, says Martinez.
The machine was invented on May 11, 1971, meaning that this year marks its 50th anniversary. Martinez is developing plans for a weeklong celebration at his four restaurants — including his original, now called Mariano’s Hacienda — in timing with Cinco de Mayo. For those looking to mark this occasion at home, here is a Margarita recipe that Martinez makes for guests that can be readily made in a blender — no Margarita machine required.
Margarita in the blender
2 ounces Tequila Herradura Silver
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce simple syrup
1 ounce Cointreau
1/2 cup ice
Transfer all ingredients to a blender and blend until thick and smooth, adding more ice as needed.