Meet the man behind the tamales at Vaught-Hemingway.
Jerry McCray is determined to expose his tamales to as many people as possible. What better place, he thought, to do so, than Vaught-Hemingway Stadium? Many fans got their first taste of McCray’s specialty—renamed, what else for game day, Hotty Tamales—on the west side of the Vaught at the first home game this season, against Southeast Missouri.
It was an opportunity McCray had been working on since about a year ago when the Clarksdale tamale man first contacted Darren Hubbard, general manager of Centerplate, which manages concessions at the Vaught. Eventually, Hubbard took a meeting with the persistent McCray.
“He brought in a sample of his tamales, and they were good-tasting,” says Hubbard. The timing was right, because Hubbard was looking for something different from typical game day fare.
McCray’s tamale concession at the SEMO game proved successful enough to garner a return invite and another location on the east side this week when Texas A&M comes to town on October 12.
History in a Husk
The method McCray uses in making tamales is a secret handed down over decades.
“Hot tamales have been in my family for over 40 years, and the recipe we have is dated as early as 1950,” McCray says. “A Mr. Ware had this particular recipe and a three-wheel cart, pedaling through Clarksdale selling hot tamales. During that time is when my dad, Jerry McCray, Sr., fell in love with hot tamales. At that time, you could get them for five cents a tamale. He opened a restaurant called Super Q Barbecue at the crossroads. He sold tamales. From the ‘50s to the time that he did it, there was a Ms. Christine Colburn who had the recipe from Mr. Ware.”
But Ms. Colburn was an older woman and wanted to retire, McCray says.
“[My father] and grandmother actually took classes from her [in how to make the tamales] and bought the recipe,” he says. “We’ve been doing hot tamales ever since. The restaurant is no longer open, but the recipe has stayed alive.”
McCray left Clarksdale for school and military service, he decided to begin a tamale business of his own.
“I started with a small location, moved on to another location on the highway, and since then have been fortunate enough to meet Charles Evans, from California. He is very interested in the history and restoration of Clarksdale.”
McCray says Evans, who has purchased a number of downtown properties, including the Clark House Residential Inn, thought downtown Clarksdale could benefit from his tamale operation.
Boats to Build
“There was an old building that looked like a boat,” McCray says. “They served ice cream out of it when I was a boy. [Evans] purchased that building, and we put our visions together and have totally restored it and should be opening at the end of this month.” The new restaurant is tentatively named The Dreamboat and will offer barbecue and tamales.
A boat on land bears similarities to those sharks of the soil, the Landsharks of the Ole Miss defense. While the Ole Miss D (fans hope) feeds on ball carriers, Rebel fans will be sharking hot tamales. And McCray is thrilled to fuel the feeding frenzy.
“The first game was just tamales,” he says. “This time, we’re going to also add the chili. We had one location the first game, but this game we’ll be on both sides of the stadium. We’ll have the push carts and tricycle carts at the stadium also … We have some good company, alongside Papa John’s and Chick-fil-A. We’re excited about the rest of the year.”
— Tad Wilkes, email@example.com