Flavors Of The Past & Present
Progresso Tamale Parlor Has Been Serving Authentic Mexican Food For 60 Years
By Mary Copeland
Hollister Free Lance News, 1999
This year, while most of us are preparing for celebrations marking a new century, Aurelio and Patsy Zuñiga, owners of Progresso Tamale Parlor, have another cause to celebrate.
This year commemorates Progresso Tamale Parlor’s 60th year in business.
The restaurant has been owned and operated by three generations of families dedicated to bringing the flavors of Mexico to Hollister.
And although Progresso’s will be stepping into the next millennium with the rest of us, the humble beginnings of how the restaurant came to be is a story rich in history and tradition.
In the 1920s, Aurelio Zuñiga lived with his wife, Maria, and their eight children in Mexico, working cattle on a ranch. The notorious Pancho Villa continually raided the ranch, stealing Zuñiga’s cattle, so the family called it quits and moved to California in 1923.
In 1939, Aurelio and his wife took over a small restaurant on San Benito Street and brought with them a tradition of Mexican cooking - using only the freshest ingredients.
Maria was famous for her tamales, and soon the restaurant became well-known locally and the demand for her tamales became widespread.
For several years the tamales were made in large quantities and driven to buyers from San Francisco to Fresno. Because the tamales are made by hand instead of by the machinery popular with many tamale manufacturers today, the tamales were delivered fresh on a daily basis.
That tradition remains alive today.
A cousin to the Zuñiga family, Elizabeth Valenzuela makes the tamales by hand every day from the family recipe at the tamale factory on Wright road as she has for the past several years.
Using whole kernel corn that is cooked for about two or three hours and left overnight before being ground up in water, the dry corn husk is softened by hot water before being used to wrap the chile and meat.
The ground corn is made into a masa by mixing it with salt, lard, and beef broth. Once the chile and beef are added, the tamale is wrapped and steamed for two hours.
Although the original restaurant was on San Benito Street, in 1955 Vicente Zuñiga - son of Aurelio - and his brother Alfonso purchased the old Goodfellows Hotel on Third Street and converted it into a restaurant.
The restaurant then passed on to Vicente’s son, Aurelio, and his wife Patsy.
Today, the Zuñigas keep their customers satisfied by adhering to the strict standards that have pleased so many customers for the past 60 years. And though they originally became famous for tamales, Progresso’s offers traditional enchiladas and tacos, as well as their seafood specialty, stuffed shrimp with enchiladas.
Aurelio and Patsy Zuñiga have made other contributions to the community in addition to operating Progressos.
We have three daughters, and all of them are college graduates, Patsy Zuñiga said proudly. Teri Zuñiga-McManus is a software engineer, Rachel Zuñiga-Garcia is a teacher at Calaveras School, and Elaine Zuñiga-Klauer is a teacher at R.O. Hardin School.
The Zuñigas also have five grandchildren.
Over the years, Aurelio has served on the San Benito High School Board of Trustees and the General Plan Committee. Patsy stays busy as the president of the San Benito Artists group, and some of Patsy’s artwork adorns the walls of Progresso’s. She is involved with the San Benito County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
The Zuñiga family is proud and grateful for the opportunity to own and operate Progressos for the past 60 years.
They said they are looking forward to many more years of bringing the time-honored tradition of Mexican cooking to San Benito County.
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