Meridian Star

Local News

August 10, 2013

Benoit native brings hot tamales to Meridian

MERIDIAN —     A taste of the Mississippi Delta is coming to Meridian — albeit via Clinton and Columbus, Miss., as well as Chicago, Ill.

    Benoit native Tom Jordan has been perfecting his hot tamale recipe ever since he left his Delta hometown in the mid 1960s and moved to Chicago where tamales were few and far between.

    Now Jordan and his wife Mary are getting ready to open Mary Jo's Hot Tamales at Bonita Lakes Mall, having won a year's lease of restaurant space at the food court  following a recent Food Network competition.

    The Clinton couple has moved to Meridian and they are anxious to open their restaurant. Local officials and others surprised the Jordans at their restaurant on Friday, greeting them with balloons and good wishes.

    "We were very surprised today," Mary Jordan said. "We didn't expect Meridian to show up today. We are not even open yet and look at the welcome we received. This is amazing for all of these people to take the time out of their day to come and welcome us to Meridian."

    Thomas Jordan said it was his love of tamales that first prompted him to figure out how to make and cook them. For the uninitiated, the southern U.S. hot tamales consist of beef that has been ground into mincemeat, seasoned, wrapped in a cornmeal dough; then wrapped in paper or corn husks. Jordan wraps his in corn husks.

    "I always loved tamales and when I went to Chicago I could not find hot tamales up there," he said. "So I began to perfect my own recipe. It took years and years of trials, but I finally came up with the recipe that I was satisfied with. That was after thousands and thousands of dollars being thrown away."

    Eventually, he and his wife retired and returned home to Mississippi. Although they had met in Chicago, she too was a Mississippian, having been brought up in Columbus.

    The couple retired to Clinton but soon learned that they did not like sitting still. So they started selling tamales at a Shell station there.

    "Once I perfected my recipe I could do that with my eyes closed," Jordan said. "I just can't wait to get going."

    One of his first customers is likely to be Wade Jones, a native of Greenville, which is just miles from Benoit, a tiny town in neighboring Bolivar County.

    Greenville, on the Mississippi River, is often referred to as a hot tamale capitol. Jones, president of the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation, was among well wishers on hand Friday.

    One of his hometown's landmarks is Doe's Eat Place, which is famous for more than its steaks. Doe's attracts tamale enthusiasts as well.

    "In reality, their hot tamales are equal to if not better than Doe's," Jones said.

    It's a piece of his life he said he has not been able to enjoy in decades. But it also represents more than that, Jones said.

    "This allows our community to come together behind a couple and make them successful," Jones said. "With the EMBDC and the Mississippi State University Small Business Development Center, we're going to have the opportunity to coach and mentor this couple. So it's so much more to me than just the hot tamales. It's a business that this community is going to get behind and help support."

    The Jordans will open the restaurant some time in the next couple of weeks.

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