Mary Alvarez is the owner of Tamales Mary, one of the most renowned Mexican restaurants in the Grand Rapids-Wyoming metropolitan area. Her story is an inspiration for those immigrants who are willing to work hard to make it in the “land of opportunity.”
Mary came to the United States when she was 17 years old; it was 1998 and at that time, her greatest ambition that made her embark on a long journey from her native Colipa (Veracruz), was to buy a brand-new laptop computer to finish high school if she ever returned to Mexico. However, life showed her the way and she never made it back to her beloved Colipa. Instead, 20 years later, she is the owner of her own Mexican restaurant: Tamales Mary.
Once in America, she began to do what she was an expert at: cooking. She had cooked since she was a child and used to sell food that her mother made.
Therefore, she never stopped cooking and worked in several kitchens. She even sold tamales to family and friends at local places such as soccer fields and apple harvests. Then she was given the opportunity to work in Tacos el Cuñado of Burton Street, and then on Grandville Avenue with her father-in-law, where she worked for 11 years.
“I had two daughters and I really wanted to get ahead. Believe me, I knew that the food business was my thing and that someday I would get ahead in life. I wanted to work hard for my daughters’ future, so they could have a better life here,” said Mary reminiscing about the time when she started working in this country.
After a while she got the opportunity to run her own business; it was a franchise of Tacos el Cuñado on Bridge Street. “We started making chicken tamales and shortly after began looking at the needs of the customers for hot (spicy) tamales as well. We ended up having such great business to the point that the sale of tamales was the same as the taco sales,” Mary told us.
The booming sales of tamales made her realize there was a potential market for this product. “Thanks to God, the support of my loving husband and Mr. Hector Lopez, we then opened Tamales Mary with seven different types of tamales.” Mary’s recipe is part of her family’s legacy.
“My mom has been making tamales for 45 years. All my family makes tamales. It’s my heritage,” she added.
The list is always growing to meet the requests and needs of the public and customers. “We are proud to announce that we now have 15 varieties of tamales, that’s what makes our menu special because no one else has that here in the city. We have chicken, beef, pork, bell peppers with cheese, black beans with fresco cheese.
There are even dessert flavors such as pineapple, strawberry, sweet corn and chocolate on special occasions. Also, vegetarian options are available,” she explained.
“We ordered the special, two tamales with beans and rice. Amazing food and amazing value. I had the pork red tamales and the pepper and cheese. My son had the pineapple and strawberry tamales for dessert. Both were delicious. We will come again,” said John Ferguson, a first-time visitor to the shop.
Nowadays, Mary, with the great support of her husband Humberto, who also manages Tacos El Cuñado, is planning to expand her business and is opening her first food cart in Downtown Grand Rapids under the Tamales Mary brand. Their plan is to have five food carts all around the city soon.
Their goal is not only to create more business but to help others in the community and provide employment. Mary and Humberto have five children whom they love very much, and every day they try to educate and teach them the customs and traditions that they were taught while growing up, without forgetting where they come from.
If you want to visit this family-run restaurant and try this delicious Veracruz-style food, Tamales Mary is in Wyoming, just south of Grand Rapids, at 1253 Burton Street SW and is typically open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. A taco bar is available on Tuesday, and Tamales buffet, on Wednesday; also open buffet, every day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Haz clic para leer en Español: Una inmigrante mexicana logra el sueño de su vida vendiendo los mejores tamales en Grand Rapids