EL FENIX®: THE ORIGINAL TEX-MEX
One (1) year after the onset of the Mexican Revolution Miguel leaves his beloved town in Mexico and arrives in Dallas.
1915 - Miguel meets and marries fellow emigré Faustina Porras – through their life together they raise eight (8) children.
1916 - Miguel decides he knows enough about catering to the tastes of Dallas residents to go into business for himself. He opens a small eating place called the "Martinez Café" on the corner of Griffin Street and McKinney Avenue in a part of Dallas then known as "Little Mexico." He is truly a one man show. He greets, seats, waits on, cooks for and washes all dishes himself.
1918 - When Miguel Martinez opens "Martinez Café," he offers only Anglo-American dishes. He develops a new style integrating Mexican flare and offers these dishes to guests for their comments. Their input was instrumental in perfecting his culinary experimentation. Tex- Mex is born.
September 15, 1918 – On the eve of the important Mexican holiday Diez y Seis, Miguel decides to make his modest café a Mexican restaurant. The name chosen is El Fenix which appealed to him because of his dearly held philosophy of turning setbacks into assets and the food revolution begins.
1919 - Miguel Martinez sells a tortilla machine (his invention) to Herman Lay for $200.00. Miguel thought he had been the winner in that deal; but little did he know that Herman Lay would later go on to create Frito-Lay. Miguel's heirs wish he had bartered for two shares in Herman's young company, oh well...
1925 - Miguel's menu and friendly atmosphere draw more and more customers from all parts of Dallas - a move to larger quarters becomes necessary. He purchases a grocery store building at 1608 McKinney and moves the restaurant.
1930s - In the mid 30's Miguel Martinez purchases the building next door to his now thriving café and creates the "El Fenix Ballroom" serving up live music and dancing with the "El Fenix Orchestra". Even though the '30s was the time of the Great Depression it was also an era of sophistication. Miguel offered guests lively nighttime fun making El Fenix and the Ballroom one of the Dallas hotspots and places to be seen. Live Saturday night radio broadcasts were also transmitted from the El Fenix Ballroom.
1930s - World renowned musicians from the swing era such as Glenn Miller, Gene Kruppa, Kay Kaiser and their big bands would finish their sets at the Adolphus and Baker Hotels, then head to El Fenix for Mexican food and beer. Afterward, these artists would jam with the El Fenix Orchestra until the early morning hours.
1937 - El Fenix takes the lead in innovative thinking in the 1930's. The decision was made to install air conditioning giving customers a comfortable establishment to enjoy both Tex-Mex cuisine and ballroom dancing.
1939 - Back then, El Fenix was open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. During WWII, a city-wide curfew is instituted, forcing El Fenix to close between midnight and 6am. The first night of the curfew no one can find a key to the front door and a locksmith is called to install new locks.
1940's - In 1941, Faustina Martinez (wife of Miguel Martinez) became a citizen of the United States. Six years later, in 1947 Miguel followed suit and also became a citizen.
1946 - Following the safe return of his four sons from World War II, Miguel Martinez decides to retire from El Fenix in favor of his children. Calling a family meeting he entrusts them with continuing his vision and dream.
1946-1956 - Miguel retires to his boyhood home of Hacienda Del Potrero, Mexico, where he shares his success with the poor townspeople, bringing in electricity and water. He has a central plaza built and landscaped with cement cast benches creating a ring around the plaza. The names of his daughters, sons and grandchildren are hand painted on the backrests and remain there today.
1948 - The tradition of El Fenix continues with the opening of their second location. El Fenix Oak Cliff opens its doors in March, 1948. The new location portrays Spanish and Mexican influences in both décor and menu items.
February 22, 1956 - Miguel Martinez passes away in his boyhood home of El Potrero. Miguel spent the last ten years of his life sharing his wealth and kindness with the people of El Potrero. A clipping found in his wallet after his death describes the words that Miguel Martinez lived by: "There are rich men that are poor and poor that are rich. A poor rich man is one who does not know how to make use of his riches and accumulates them in such form as if he thinks he is going to live forever."
1956 - El Fenix opens a new location in the Casa Linda Shopping Center. The floor plan and modern equipment ensures the highest efficiency and makes the huge kitchen one of the finest in the Southwest, if not the entire nation. The stoves, counters and refrigerators, built by Huey and Philip of Dallas, were all made of stainless steel. The use of stainless steel throughout the kitchen assures a degree of sanitation that had seldom been reached in restaurant kitchen design.
1956 - The first miniature El Fenix opens...
1959 - At Mardi Gras, Mrs. Miguel Martinez is crowned queen of the Krewe of Niobeans at the fourteenth annual Ball Masque in New Orleans. Mrs. Martinez wore a princess gown of gold cloth with a heavily jeweled front panel and court train.
1960's - A new interpretation of the same charm and style of authentic Mexican dining is presented and three (3) new El Fenix restaurants open | 1960: Lemmon - Inwood | 1967: Northwest Hwy - Hillcrest | 1967: Fort Worth – Ridglea. Even though the interpretation changed a bit to keep up with current design trends, the recipes remained the same. People come from miles around to experience authentic El Fenix Tex-Mex.
1961 - Mrs. Miguel Martinez Sr. is named chairman of the board of El Fenix Restaurants. Her five sons and three daughters (who operated the family restaurants) elect Faustina to govern the direction of the company.
1965 - In the mid '30s (as Miguel began to expand) he purchases a parking lot directly across the street from the El Fenix Café and Ballroom. Twenty-five years later in 1965, that parking lot would become the present day location of the downtown El Fenix. El Fenix Café and Ballroom are sold to the city and demolished to make way for the Woodall Rodgers Freeway.
1968 - The meager beginnings of the one restaurant opened in 1918; now at 50 years of age, has flourished to 11 restaurants serving the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex and is a living legend of modern day food operations. Miguel Martinez once told his children, "To succeed you must work hard." The family is proud of and living proof of Miguel's wisdom – they are the oldest Mexican restaurant chain in the United States. Bob Lilly (of Dallas Cowboys fame) is the emcee for the 50th Anniversary prize the family raffles off – a brand new Cadillac.
1969 - Anita N. Martinez makes her mark in the Dallas community by becoming the first Hispanic woman ever elected to a major U.S. city's governing body. While on the council Anita asks residents to write down 10 things they want done in their community. Four years later, all of them have been accomplished.
1970 - Dallas is buzzing with growth and publicity in the '70s. DFW airport opens as the world's largest airport. The Dallas Cowboys win two Super Bowls and the record setting TV series "Dallas" debuts. Keeping in step, El Fenix Corporation opens a new restaurant on Webb Chapel at Forest Lane.
1971 - Anita Martinez negotiates a trade with President Richard Nixon during a meeting of the national board in Washington D.C., in return for a Dallas All-American City patch, the President autographs a sombrero for Mrs. Martinez. "It caused a sensation in the White House receiving line," said Mrs. Martinez.
1978 - During the rise of El Fenix, Faustina Martinez begins making a name for herself in a different arena. Three or four times a week Mrs. Martinez goes dancing taking in as many as three clubs on some nights. She earns the nickname "Mama Cha-Cha" and states, "You name it, I dance it... as long as I have a partner who knows what he's doing."
1980's - El Fenix opens new restaurants in Addison in 1981 and Plano in 1989. The Addison location is perfect at the corner of Beltline and Montfort Roads and arrives in Plano just in time to see the once small farming community grow into the commercial, financial and educational center for Collin County. Both stores still draw record crowds.
1980's - El Fenix produces two TV commercials... one wins a prestigious film award – some say New York Film Critics... others insist it was Cannes... unfortunately, there is no paper trail to prove which award we won... The first of you to find out which award it is and can bring verifiable proof wins a one year free Enchilada Wednesday pass for you and a guest! Go get 'em brand ambassadors!!!
1990's - El Fenix Hot Sauce popularity heats up and is shipped the world over. Retail sales rival sales of any El Fenix restaurant.
1990's - El Fenix moves further out into the suburbs with new restaurants in Mesquite in 1992, Grapevine in 1995, Skillman in 1996 and Arlington in 1997.
1996 - Anita Martinez (wife of Alfred Martinez) is chosen to be a torchbearer, one of the greatest honors a person can be granted, for the 1996 Olympic Torch Relay as it passed through Dallas. Her torch run further solidified her mark on the community.
2000's - El Fenix, the oldest Mexican Restaurant chain in the United States, marks another milestone in 2009 - 90 years of service to the Dallas / Fort Worth community. Four more stores open: Lewisville in 2000, McKinney in 2001, Irving in 2009 and Denton 2010.
2006 - El Fenix is featured on Food Network's weekly series "The Secret Life of Tex Mex". "The Secret Life of Tex Mex" aired in 2006 to an international audience. The episode followed host Jim O'Connor as he ventured to the Lone Star State and stopped by El Fenix for a taste of history loaded with spicy ingredients.
2008 - To celebrate their 90th anniversary, El Fenix Mexican Restaurant offered their famous cheese enchilada platter for only 90 cents on Sept. 16, 2008 at its flagship restaurant in Downtown Dallas. Patrons were lined up out the door and along the side of the restaurant before it opened at 11 a.m. The offer was so popular that it is now an annual event.
September 16, 2008 - Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, Police Chief David Kunkle, local media and new owner Mike Karns join a crowd of El Fenix guests to celebrate and honor Alfred Martinez, last surviving son of Miguel and Faustina. Alfred is honored with a replica of a Hollywood "Walk of Fame" Star, authorized and licensed in perpetuity by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and built into the sidewalk in front of the downtown El Fenix location.