Meet Your Neighbor: From Houston’s Herminator to Tennessee Tamale Guy – Johnson City Press (subscription)

Friends and metal fans in Houston, Texas, who listened on Thursdays to his Sweet Nightmares radio show on KPFT 90.1 FM knew him as the Herminator. People here who crave authentic Mexican food know him as the Tennessee Tamale Guy.

Last year, when Hurricane Harvey hammered Houston, the Herminator’s house was lifted off its foundation.

He lost clothes, shoes, furniture, a large chunk of his vast music collection and a Fender Stratocaster guitar in the floodwaters.

Garcia used aid money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for his travel to a girlfriend’s place in Johnson City. The couple were planning for her to move to Houston, but Harvey changed those plans.

“I lost everything,” he said. “I only had four pairs of shoes. Losing the musical instruments and the music collection was hard. That guitar was a prized possession.”

He got a job at an area pizza place, and little-by-little started rebuilding his life. It’s been rough going, but Garcia said he’s making headway.

The thing he misses most about Houston is the music. For a metalhead like the Herminator, who used to organize shows and events, the scene just isn’t as developed.

“I’d really like to get back on the radio,” he said. “There is a small metal and punk scene here, I just need somebody to take a chance on me.”

But otherwise, he likes it here. Johnson City’s culture and atmosphere remind him of Austin, Texas, where he went to the University of Texas — he calls it “the real UT,” but all of us Tennesseans know he’s kidding.

Even without the heavy metal, Garcia said he loves the community and decided to contribute some of his culture to it.

He became the Tennessee Tamale Guy one day when hanging out at the Johnson City Brewing Company. Talking with brewery owner Eric Latham, Garcia said some of the craft beers would pair well with real tamales. At Latham’s request, Garcia made a batch of tamales using his mother’s traditional recipes.

Latham liked the food so much he began telling friends about Garcia’s talents, and those friends started asking him to make them tamales. He started selling them to supplement his income.

“I want to get my own food truck, that’s the goal,” he said. “Then maybe down the road, I can think about a brick-and-mortar restaurant, but I want to take it slow.”

The authentic Mexican food offerings in the area are pretty slim, Garcia said, especially compared to Houston, one of the most diverse cities in the country.

He’s been able to source authentic, fresh ingredients for his cooking from small shops in town, and said they are the key to his tasty tamales.

“You’ve got to use good, solid ingredients,” he said. “People can tell the difference when you use mozzarella, or something like that, instead of a real Mexican cheese.”

In addition to traditional meat tamales, Garcia also makes holiday versions — pumpkin spice tamale, anyone? — and is considering using experimental ingredients like venison. His strawberry tamales are in high demand, and usually sell out whenever they’re available.

For now, he’s taking orders online on Facebook @tennesseetamaleguy, by the email address or the phone number listed on the page. 

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