Bicker and Better

Tosh's Hacienda, arguably a family restaurant, gets ready to serve its billionth tamale.

The number of people who could not imagine missing the fiftieth-anniversary celebration of Tosh's Hacienda restaurant is about 500. The menu is ready. The mariachis are on deck. Where everyone will park, though, is a bit of a mystery. The valet parking guys, who are somewhat out of their element at the corner of 30th and Downing streets, are waiting for an answer.

"Think, Ruben," says his daughter-in-law Stacy Mackintosh. "What property do you own around here?"

"I can't figure that out right off hand," Ruben Mackintosh says, from his regular corner booth, which is stacked with papers and topped with a cordless phone.

"Well, didn't you say you were going to buy some?"
"Yeah, I probably did," Ruben agrees. "Well, where do you want to park them, anyway? Just go over and talk to those people and ask them, and they will let you park. Sure they will."

The valet parking guys exchange a look. Ruben catches it, but says nothing. Right now the wholesale-food guy is on the line, and his delivery plan is absolutely not going to work. Chef Dan Martin is stumping around on an injured leg looking for a flashlight so that Ruben can look inside the abandoned building next door--if the locksmith shows up, which he may not. Also, there is the matter of this latest batch of chorizo.

"It's too spicy," Ruben informs Chef Dan. "I just ate an egg-and-chorizo burrito, so I know."

"You're just getting old. Your tastebuds are flat."
"Oh, so what," Ruben says, as waitress Rose Quesada appears tableside, wondering if Ruben wants anything else. He isn't a luncher as much as an all-day snacker, so it's hard to tell.

"You've been here twenty years, is that right?" Ruben asks.
"Yeah, practically since I was in diapers," Rose replies.
"As far as I'm concerned, you still are."

"Fine then, I'm ready to be changed," Rose retorts, flouncing away without bringing him the glass of water he requested. This doesn't seem to trouble Ruben unduly, as he is too busy greeting the lunch crowd, at least half of which seems to know him and have eaten here since they were in diapers.

The restaurant has changed considerably since then. Its menu--now a four-page listing of complex combo platters and blender drinks--was nonexistent. Who needed it?

"All we was, was a tamale and tortilla house," Ruben recalls. "We sold five things: burritos, tamales, tacos, tostadas and enchiladas. It was two kitchen chairs, an ice machine, a stand with candy and a four-burner stove with a grill that fit exactly nine corn tortillas. And we was never a neighborhood restaurant. People came from all over Denver to buy burritos."

That was fifty years ago, in 1946. Ruben's father, Salvador Mackintosh, had quit his job as a ham-boner at Armour Meats following a dispute with his employer. With the Gonzales family of Auraria, he started a tamale house but backed out less than a year later after a "disagreement."

"My father was a hard-head," Ruben admits. "He was a proud man who had been belittled and mostly stood up for his rights and was always fighting."

The elder Mackintosh may not have had a grasp of workplace etiquette, but he knew tamales. The son of a Scottish immigrant who'd moved to Old Mexico, married and been killed by Zapatistas, Salvador crossed the border to Texas, then to Denver, with his wife, Esther. He never lost the taste for the cuisine of his native land--a fact his seven children, who had to spend summer weekends picking chiles in fields outside Denver, soon learned by heart.

Ruben, the oldest Mackintosh son, was ten years old when the family take-out operation opened, and as such, he was expected to operate the tortilla press and the corn grinder. As he did so, he watched the restaurant--then called La Hacienda--grow. It moved from the family kitchen, with its two chairs, into the dining room, the front room, and then a stucco building his father erected hurriedly where the front lawn used to be.

The original La Hacienda, at 3036 1/2 Downing, is located a half-block from the current Tosh's restaurant. The family sold it in 1956. Last year, as a sentimental gesture, Ruben bought it back. Last week, with the help of a locksmith, a pair of bolt cutters and a flashlight, he revisited his boyhood home. The original nine-tortilla stove lurked in the shadows.

"I remember the first hundred dollars my father made in this house," Ruben said. "He got us all around the kitchen table and he threw all these ones in the air and said, 'Look at all the money!' And he would always give us some if he had it. Hey, this is the old tortilla press. I used to have to stamp on it to get the air out of the bags. As soon as I get time I'm going to put it all back the way it was. I have a strong feeling for the past."

It's a relatively new development. Called to Korea in the Fifties, Ruben decided not to return to Denver. "I didn't want to work in the restaurant or the carry-out anymore," he recalls. "I wanted to maybe travel in the world. But then I got the only letter my dad ever wrote me. He said you better come on back home. And I did. And then I was stuck."

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