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Marble Falls couples mixes holiday tradition with masa for successful tamale business

Chata's Kitchen

Pat and Rachel King turned an old family recipe and Rachel’s desire to be her own boss into a business: Chata’s Kitchen in Cottonwood Shores. The name, Chata, was Rachel’s childhood nickname. It means pug nose in Spanish. Photo by Ronnie Madrid/Devine Radiance Photography

Rachel King and her seven sisters and two brothers grew up in a North Texas home where their parents threw a tamale-making party every year just before Christmas. The entire family gathered to make and eat tamales as quickly as the corn husk-wrapped masa and pork steamed to perfection.

“We ate them right out of the pot on the stove,” said King, who lives in Marble Falls with her husband, Pat. “We didn’t have them like a meal with rice and beans. The grownups stayed up all night making and eating tamales. We ate them as they were ready.”

While the older kids helped with spreading the masa on corn husks, the younger siblings sang Christmas carols around the tree, usually on Christmas Eve.

“The grownups told us we had to sing loud so Santa would hear us and know where to come,” she said. “So we sang our hearts out.”

The next morning, any surviving tamales were toasted in the oven and served with fried eggs.

“That was always my favorite way to eat tamales,” King said.

Now, King has her own tamale-making business, Chata’s Kitchen in Cottonwood Shores, melding childhood memories and a family recipe with a desire to be her own boss.

“I’ve always wanted to start a business; I’ve always fantasized about it,” said the retired teacher.

King spent 29 years as an educator in Lubbock with a short stint in Georgetown before she and her family moved to the Highland Lakes, where she worked for Marble Falls schools for several years. Pat is a lab manager at Seton Highland Lakes.

“I like the idea of creating a culture you like to work in and a culture the people you hire like to work in,” King said. “I’ve always wanted to start something and grow with it and learn from it.”

Although her first idea was cinnamon rolls, the difficulty of making tamales (anyone can make cinnamon rolls, she said) and the need for a quality product created in a professional kitchen drove the final decision.

Market research happened years earlier in her home kitchen. The family decided to make and sell tamales as a fundraiser for school programs in which her two daughters were involved. While the first time was successful, the second venture overwhelmed them.

“We sold six hundred dozen in two weeks,” King said. “We had to tell them to stop selling. We couldn’t make any more. We couldn’t keep up.”

King’s recipe is handed down from her mother, Lupe Andrade, who measured spices by instinct.

“My husband and I had to measure the ingredients from the palms of her hands and write it all down to get the first recipe,” she said. “Then, we had to round it out and test it over and over to get a consistent taste. It took a few batches!”

King’s mother died in 2011, but her recipe for mild pork tamales lives on through the family business. King has since expanded the menu to include spicy pork, black bean, chicken with green chilies, and jalapeños and green cheese.

Her seasonal sweet corn Hatch tamales, which are available in August and September, won first place in the first-ever Texas Works Awards in 2018. (The second contest takes place in 2020.)

King’s mother helped with the fundraisers and starting the business. She had already moved from hand spreading masa and meat to, first, a tortilla press and, then, a little tamale machine that one of King’s sister bought her.

“I used it when we first started,” King said. “We used it until it broke and couldn’t be fixed any more.”

The hardest part of turning their fundraising talents into a family business was finding a location for a commercial kitchen, King said. She fell in love with a small building at 3816 Cottonwood Drive in Cottonwood Shores, which the Kings bought and set up seven years ago.

Along with selling tamales by the dozen at her Cottonwood Shores business, Chata’s Kitchen also sells at local festivals such as Christmas on the Square in Burnet, which this year is December 14. She makes tamales for fundraisers for churches and other organizations. Recently, she set up her small machine in the kitchen of the Marble Falls Church of Christ, where she is a member, for a tamale-making party.

Christmas tamales are all about family bonding, traditions, and fun. The process is labor intensive, but, with the right helpers, it becomes a party, King said. As one of the youngest children in a large family, King didn’t learn to make tamales until she was an adult, mainly because, at the time, she wasn’t interested.

“Like a lot of kids, you don’t value it,” she said. “Then, you get older and you think: ‘Who’s going to make tamales when mother’s gone?’”

At Chata’s Kitchen, Rachel King keeps her mother’s legacy alive and makes it available to those who want tasty tamales and holiday traditions without all the work.