Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

The Patron Saint of Chi-Chi’s

April 13th, 2011 · No Comments


I’m working on a Wired piece that’s requiring some deep-diving into Patent Office history, and so I’ve recently been losing myself in Google’s nifty patents database (which is far more user-friendly than Uncle Sam’s). For some odd reason, I’ve found myself gravitating toward food-technology patents, since engineering innovation has obviously remade the American diet—and, by extension, the American body—over the past century. A prime example of this phenomenon is the invention that opened up our nation’s gullets to the potentials of Mexican cuisine: the uniform taco mold, patented in 1956 by Nolan Wendel of Cuero, Texas. If anyone man deserves to have his portrait hung up in every Chi-Chi’s in the world, in the same manner that Turkish businesses pay homage to Atatürk, it’s Wendel. Without his knack for turning corn tortillas into uniformly shaped meat vessels, the taco would have had a very different introduction to the U.S.

Wendel appears to still be living, but I see no evidence that he became fabulously wealthy from his invention. It’s not too late to grant him entry into the Food Industry Hall of Fame.

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