What I Do: Doug Marshall, The Tamale Man

When Marisa Marshall decided to take up organic farming, her husband Doug Marshall figured the best way to get a foot in the door at local farmers markets was by offering prepared food. Now, most Marshall Family Farms produce is sold in tamale form, and you probably know him as The Tamale Man – dishing out family recipes with three of their seven children and one son-in-law at private events, Southwest Diner’s Tamale Tuesdays and farmers markets from Tower Grove to Lake St. Louis. Here, the boss dad shared his perspective on family business.

Aztec Hot Pockets
“[Tamales have] been around for centuries. We tell people it’s like the original Hot Pocket. They were already wrapped, and they traveled easily. The Aztecs, when they went on hunting parties, cooked a bunch of them.”

Christmas tradition
“[Tamales were a] Christmas present from my grandmas, every year. My mom passed away when I was 9 and my dad married another woman, who was half Mexican, half Cuban. So I basically grew up with two Mexican grandmothers. That was always a blast, [making] the tamales. I would help. When you got to driving age, you had to take them shopping. We went to the Soulard [Farmers] Market because they had to get the fresh stuff. There was a process. They basically pointed and told you what to do. I was trying to be nice, but yeah. They were pretty bossy.”

Family recipe
“When my grandmothers cook, they have their favorite coffee cup with the handle broken and stuff. They didn’t use tablespoons or anything. I really started from memory, and just kind of adapted it over the years to try to capture what I remember as a child.”

Skin in the game
“Family dynamics are interesting when you’re working together because everybody wants to have ownership of what you’re working on – which is a good thing. They want to be involved. I used to be ‘It’s my way or the highway,’ but for long-term success, that’s not really a good strategy. In any situation, I think if everyone has skin in the game, they’re going to be more productive.”

Proper technique
“For years, everybody boiled the meat. Now we marinate it and roast it. We take the trimmings and render our own fat and lard to use in the tamales. We make our stocks. … You’ve got to roast [the chiles], put them in a container, let them steam, clean them. [The kids] were like, ‘Can’t we just use canned chiles?’ No.”

Father of seven
“I used to try to micromanage everything. Now I try to let them figure it out. My youngest is 18, so now I like to say, ‘We’re all adults here, so figure it out.’ You can be mad at each other, but at the end of the day we’re all on the same team.”

Family Competition
“I was a former athlete and I still believe in keeping score. We have friendly competitions on Saturdays at the different markets. We compare totals and rib each other. I’ll say something like, ‘Nobody remembers second place.’ But it’s all in good fun. I’m admonished frequently. … If I have an off day, I’m kind of dour, kind of sullen about that and of course they pile on. My daughters [tell] me to be grateful, and [my son] Rudy and [son-in-law] Brian basically say, ‘Ha ha!’”

Business goals
“If you asked me the long-term goal when they were in diapers, that was my goal: That we enjoy each other’s company and like being around each other. I’d say that’s come to fruition. Marisa and I are very happy about that. There’s no black sheep thus far. They’re all really good friends.”