Tuesday, April 29

RIP Robert "Bobby" Vasquez - Oral History Interview

The TJ team is saddened by the passing of Robert "Bobby" Vasquez of The Tamale House on Airport Blvd. We have fond memories of eating and sending people to Bobby's place - The Tamale House, a true Austin institution. As part of the 'Austin Breakfast Tacos' project, we added an oral history piece to the book. The following is an excerpt interview with Bobby Vasquez as he shares a little history of The Tamale House, when breakfast tacos took off, the infamous taco wars, and how it was like to eat tacos back in the day. Rest in Peace Mr. Vasquez.

Brother and Sister, Bobby Vasquez & Diana Valera
Photo source: Tamale House East


Breakfast Tacos Take Off

I don’t think anyone was selling breakfast tacos when I opened up. I think I was in business for five or six years before I actually started selling breakfast tacos. It means you gotta get up at four o’clock in the morning to make a breakfast taco. When I started in 1985–86, I started selling them. A neighbor down the street was selling them, too. So I started a taco war. My tacos went down to forty-five cents each. So he went out of business, and I kept going. About that time, my mother and my sister started selling breakfast tacos, too. Now, if you look around, everybody’s selling breakfast tacos. Everybody. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell. They never used to do it before. It’s something that’s caught on...I make all my stuff in-house. We don’t have anything imported. It’s all made right here in our kitchens. The only thing we buy are the tortillas, but they’re local.

Eating Tacos, Then and Now

You wanna know what it was like as a kid eating tacos? If I took tacos to school, everyone would say shame on you. There was a lot of shame eating a taco back then. You had to hide them. You couldn’t eat them in front of nobody. And this was among a school that was 80 to 90 percent Anglo and very few Mexicans. So I had to hide my food. But now, 80 to 90 percent of Anglos eat tacos! I would say 80 to 90 percent of my customers are Anglo. And they eat tacos like they’ve never had anything before in their life! So things have changed. I think to myself, I remember a time when I would get made fun of. And now everybody’s eating tacos. It’s not just Mexicans anymore.

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