HOT TAMALE PLACE a.k.a. THE WHITE FRONT CAFE
Joe’s Hot Tamale Place
902 Main Street
Rosedale, MS 38769
Joe barely fixed his breakfast. But he loved making
those tamales, though…He loved making tamales, and that's
about all he ever cooked. No one in my family really cooked. – Barbara Pope
Born in 1924, Joe Pope was the oldest of ten children.
His family moved from Alabama to the Rosedale area in the 1930s.
Joe held different jobs over the years, but in the 1970s, after
a friend shared a recipe with him, he began selling hot tamales.
It is said that the friend, John Hooks, got the recipe from a Mexican
migrant sometime in the 1930s. A side-job at first, Joe’s
Hot Tamale Place, also known as The White Front Café, became
so popular that Joe made it a full-time business when he retired
from his day job. Joe passed away in December of 2004, but his youngest
sister, Barbara Pope, is still making his famous tamales. Barbara
worked by her brother’s side for seven years, helping to fill
and roll the tamales by hand. Today, Barbara, her sisters, and their
ninety-seven year-old mother, Emma, can be found at the White Front,
cooking and selling the same hot tamales that Joe made famous.
to this 2-minute audio
clip of Barbara Pope talking about how she learned her brother
Joe Pope’s hot tamale recipe. [Windows Media Player required.
to download the player for free.]
What follows is a portion of the original interview
that has been edited for length. To download the entire transcript
in PDF form, please click here.
Subject: Barbara Pope, owner, Joe’s
Hot Tamale Place, a.k.a. White Front Café-
Date: July 21, 2005
Location: Joe’s Hot Tamale Place/White Front
Cafe dining room
Interviewer: Amy Evans
Amy Evans: This is Amy Evans for the Southern
Foodways Alliance on Thursday, July 21, 2005 and I'm in Rosedale,
Mississippi, with Barbara Pope, current proprietor of Joe Pope's
White Front Hot Tamales. And Miss Pope, would you mind saying your
name and also your birth date, if you don't mind, for the record?
Pope: [Short laugh] My name is Barbara Pope, and my birth date is
September twenty-fifth…Nineteen forty-four.
And Joe Pope was your older brother?
He was the oldest of ten children.
Okay. And he was born in [nineteen] twenty-four,
is that right?
Nineteen twenty-three. Uh-huh, December the ninth,
He passed in December of last year, right?
He passed on December the third.
And where do you fit into the family, then?
I'm the last.
Can you tell me a little bit about your family's
background? Are y you all from Rosedale originally or--?
My parents were born and reared in Alabama. Most of
my sisters and brothers were born in Alabama; only three of us were
born in Mississippi. And they came to Mississippi, I think, in the
late [nineteen] thirties and we worked--they were farmers. And they
worked as farmers up until 1957, I think, and that's when they moved
to Rosedale from the farm [just outside of Rosedale].
Were they sharecropping or were they independent?
They were share---well the older--the first group
of people--family members that came here, they were owners. They
were landowners. But my father worked with them for--I don't know
how many years and then he began to sharecrop. And he did that until
he retired in 1957. That's when he left farming.
And what were your parents' names?
Emma--my mother is Emma, and my father is Jake [Pope].
Do you have any memories of eating hot tamales
when you were a kid?
Nope, never…Never; I don't think I ate a tamale
until gosh, I think I was about a teenager…I know I was a
teenager the first time I ate a tamale…In the late '50s.
So tell me about your brother.
Joe?..He was quiet, low-key but loved people. He loved
meeting people, he loved talking to people, but he did more listening
than he did--than talking, you know. And I don't know. To me, everybody
that met him liked him. And I think he liked everybody he met. He
loved talking about his tamales, and he loved other people praising
him about his tamales.
How did he get into the tamale business?
I guess--I really wasn't here when he got into the
business, but he'd been in the business for over thirty years--about
thirty-three years or something like that. He had a friend that
used to make tamales here some years ago, and he left here. So his
father--this man's father--still lived here. So they were talking,
and he asked Joe about making tamales, you know, and they would
go through the recipe. So, well, he took some of his recipe and
then he added extra spices to it, so it wouldn't be just exactly
like his. But, you know, the basic--just about the same except the
seasoning was different.
What was Joe doing before he got into the
Joe always worked for--as an--as a young man, he used
to work at Dattle's Department
Stores here. And then he worked for D&L [an automobile parts
factory] in Cleveland. I think that's where he retired from--D&L,
and then after he retired from D&L he came in and started running
his own business full-time. But he had other people that would work
for him while he worked. I think he worked the nightshift. Well,
he worked the three o'clock shift. So he would work in the daytime
and then during that time they were staying open until two or three
o'clock in the morning. So when he got in at twelve, he would come
up here on weekends and work until two or three o'clock in the morning.
Well I read somewhere that was--was John
Hooks the name of the man that shared the recipe and something about
him getting it actually from a Mexican in the [nineteen] thirties?
Uh-hmm. Yeah, right. John Hooks did; there were a
lot of workers coming through here in--back in the [nineteen] fifties,
there were a lot of Mexicans living around in this area, so I'm
sure that's where he got it from--those Mexicans that would come
through here, yeah.
Do you have any idea or recollection of the--the
Mexican immigrants that came through here? Did they ever sell tamales?
No, not that I know of…And even when they were
living here, I can't remember any of them selling tamales. But now
there were quite a few of them here during the [nineteen] fifties
and maybe the early [nineteen] sixties, but they all just vanished.
I don't know where they went to. [Laughs]
They vanished and the hot tamales stayed.
Yeah, but they never made them. I guess it was someone
that made them out of their home, and they just taught him how to
do it. Uh-hmm.
Do you have an opinion of how--how it is that
the African American community in the Delta has held onto that tradition
of tamale making?
I really don't know. Yeah, it--because most people
think that it's--the restaurant is owned by Spanish when they come
here, you know, and then they find out that they are not. But most
of the tamales around here are owned by black or white, so there--there
are no Mexicans that really make them. And most of people that make
them, the Mexicans make theirs a little different from ours.
So your brother Joe was working at D&L
and then--so would you say that he was looking to get into the tamale
business to supplement his regular income and--?
Well he was work--he was running this place before
he started working at D&L, I think. Right, he started this business
first because--I think he started--that would be in the early [nineteen]
seventies. I think he says he was in like thirty-three, thirty-four
Okay. So when he opened it, he opened it as
a full-time hot tamale business?
Right, he opened it full-time.
And then your brother came and opened the--did
he call it the White Front initially or--?
This was the White Front Cafe…[T]his has always
been the White Front Cafe.
But I think he took over the places--another little place--it's
torn down now—around the corner--that Hooks had, and I think
he opened that one--that up for a while, and then he moved over
here. I think that's the way it was.
Was he the main tamale maker when he first
opened? Was he the only one doing it?
was. The only one…I haven't ever tasted another tamale.
Really--other than your brother's?
[Laughs] I really haven't, but I--I always said that
I was because I--I guess I've never been anywhere where they really
sold them, you know--because I do go to Greenville, but when I'm
there I'm taking care of business, and I'm trying to rush back.
But other of my family members have; they have eaten other's tamales.
Plus, a friend of Joe's, he's a Mexican, he went down to Mexico,
and he even brought back some Mexican tamales so Joe could see them.
But they--they don't have cornmeal, they have flour. And they're
very large. But I didn't taste any of those. They cooked them here,
though…They were spicy--very spicy. Much more spicier than
those [the ones being served today] are.
And I also heard somewhere that your brother
was making—originally, he was making pork tamales and then
changed to beef?
I'm not sure. That I don't know. Ever since I've been
here, they've been beef, so I'm not sure about the pork. I really
How many tamales would you say are made here
in a week's time?
We do--like this time of year [the summer], it's slow,
it's hot. And I don't think too many people eat tamales. So we go--we've
cut down to like 160-dozen, per week. In the wintertime we can do
like from three to 400-dozen, per week.
Wow. So who else works here and who--who has
over the years because I know, when I’ve been here before
and there have been a whole group of women rolling and--?
There were…But only two of us work here now.
Plus my family--I have a ninety-seven year-old mother.
Your mother is alive?
Yes…That was the reason I came back here--to
be with her, not knowing that I was going to have to take over the
business. [Laughs] So my sisters take turns coming to be with her
while I work. So they, in turn, come and help me out here, too.
So it's only one that works like part-time. She only works on the
days that we roll…Other than that, she doesn't work.
And was your brother here up until when he
passed or was there a time that he--?
He did. He worked up until the week of Thanksgiving.
The week before Thanksgiving that's when he had the heart attack.
Because two of my sisters came in on a Wednesday, and he went and
picked them up and that Thursday he had the heart attack. And he
lived on two weeks after it.
So how did the recipe change hands? Is it
something that--that he shared at the very end or is it something
that the family knew?
Well, I had been working here with him for about seven
years because, you know, he was ailing, and I would come in and
do as much as I could for him. So it was something that--I had watched
him, but I had never done it myself. So it was the--the week before
he passed, we were sitting there because this place was the last
thing on my mind. And he said to me, "Did you order any meat?"
I said, "Huh?" [Laughs] I mean yeah, he said, "Did
you order any meat?" I said, "No." I said, "You
want me to order meat?" He said, "Yes." I said, "You
want me to cook?" He said, "Yes." [Laughs] So another
one of my sisters and I were sitting there, and he started going
over the recipe. And it really didn't interest me, but she was writing
everything down. But I really knew. She thought I wasn't paying
any attention, but I knew how to make them. I knew what to put in
them. But he--she wrote it down, you know, to make sure. I didn’t--o
after he said start cooking, so I started cooking from then, and
I've been cooking ever since.
Do you enjoy it?
I do, I enjoy it. I guess, you know, you enjoy listening
to the people appreciating what
you do, you know, so it helps a lot. And I appreciate the customers
because he has some devoted customers, and they are still devoted
to me, so that makes a big difference.
Did your brother ever advertise at all?
And when you sell tamales to go, people need
to bring their own containers, right?
If they want the juice…Most people want the
juice from the tamales, and they have used it for different things.
A lot--some people have told me that they pour it over salad. Some
said they dip French bread or Italian bread in it, you know. They
just--they like it. They say it has a good taste to it. But I never
tasted it. [Laughs]
And what is your schedule for making the
tamales? Do you have a regular one? Like a weekly schedule?
Not really. It's--most of the time I cook on Tuesdays
and Thursdays--the meat--and we roll the other--in between those
days, we roll the tamales. Uh-hmm, we cook--we buy the meat, we
cut it ourselves, we ground our own meat, uh-hmm.
What time of day do you start when you cook
and when you roll and how long does that take?
Whenever I get here. [Laughs] Most of the time I try--on
the days that I cook I try very hard to get here at ten [in the
morning]. But sometimes I have to take care of my mother, if no
one is here. So on the days I cook, I don't do anything else but
cook that day, anyway. I’ll be in here.
Do you have a family of cooks?
No. [Laughs] No. No, they do not cook.
Did Joe ever cook growing up that you remember?
No, Joe never cooked. I don't think Joe hardly made
his breakfast.[Laughs] But he loved making those tamales, though…He
loved making tamales and that's about all he ever, as I say, cooked.
He would get up and he would cook--sometimes he had his breakfast.
And no one in my family really cooked.
And tamales have maintained a--a home and
lifestyle and family and building all these years. Did your brother
have a family of his own?
Yes, he had children. He has three children, uh-hmm.
Are they in Rosedale or Mississippi?
No…One--he has two in Chicago and one in Washington,
but he lives in Suitland, Maryland.
And does he have a widow or did she pass?
His wife’s been deceased since [nineteen] sixty-seven.
What did Joe's kids think about the business?
Did they ever work here or have a hand in it at all?
No. I don't think they would come back here right
now. They’re all working, and I don't think that much money
is in the business where they would quit their job.
So are you going to stick with it for the
I'm going to try to as long as I can. Uh-hmm.
How--what--how have the prices changed over
the years, do you know?
I don’t know. They were five fifty or five dollars up until
last year, and I guess they've been five dollars for like ten or
fifteen years. They were all--they said, "Joe, raise your prices."
"No, no." But it's very expensive to make them.
Do you know what he was selling them for when
he first opened?
Was it two? Something like that.
Two dollars a dozen? That's a lot of
years to go by to only raise four dollars in price. [Laughs]
That's what I know. He doesn't--he didn't want to
raise them to six dollars--no. His accountant told me [Laughs] when
I first took over the business, she--she says, "Barbara, you
look at what's going out and what's coming in. “ So, she had
a good point because the meat is expensive, and the shucks are really
Did he or have you ever considered going to
parchment paper? There are a lot of people in the Delta who roll
in a paper.
You know, no, because a lot of our customers remain
with us because we stayed with the shucks, you know. They said they
don't like the paper because the--there's too much grease inside,
and they don't even--we roll by hand. They stayed with us because
of that because they said they don't like the machine. But it's
faster and it's cheaper, but--.
In addition to rolling by hand, do you also
layer the cornmeal and meat by hand?
Yeah, there are not a lot of people that still
Nope. Most of them, they love that machine. It's faster,
much faster…But I guess sometimes we have to do--do things
to satisfy your customers. We have good customers, so I guess if
we didn't really have good customers we would change. But I'm sure
down the line there will be some changes made, but right now I'm
just in the process of learning the business so--.
So when you have a day of rolling are there
jobs that certain people do each time, or do you kind of rotate
responsibilities? Like one person ties and one person--?
Um-umm…Everybody. They do their rolling and
they do their tying, um-hmm.
Well what do you think it is about your brother
and the hot tamale business
and this place that has lasted here so long?
Well, besides having good tamales, he was just a nice
person. And I think that has a lot to do with staying in business.
He had a good personality; he just loved everybody, you know. So
I guess that helps a lot, you know, because anybody who walks through
that door, if you wanted to sit down and talk to him about the tamales,
he was ready. Yeah. I think that helps. He was open, uh-hmm…Well,
you know, I really think he had--he had a good business. Because
there were still a lot of people around here that knew about his
business. And like Joe has worked with Dattle's Department Store,
so he knew a lot of people, and a lot of people knew him. So you
see people coming in here now, they have children and they were
saying, "When we were children, we went to Dattle's and we--Joe
waited on us. He'd get out--get the shoes or he would measure, you
know for this and that,” you know. So he knew them. Some of
them are not here. They've moved out of Rosedale but still they
come back and--and they remember him, you know.
Well, I found--and all the people that I've
spoken with--that the tamale recipe is so valued sentimentally and
then also economically speaking because there was such an investment
made a long time ago--to get the recipe to begin with--and then
it stayed in families and has been kept tight…I've talked
to a couple people who have sold their recipes to a few people but
then found out that--that the people didn't want to spend the time
actually making them, so never really came of it. But I wonder if
Joe over the years ever sold or gave away his recipe that you know
I don't know. That, I don't know. I've had several
people ask me for it, but they want to buy it, you know. But I'm
not saying that I won’t right now. [Laughs]
Right now--yeah; but no one around here--there were a man from Kansas.
He's from Kansas City; he asked Joe for it. And then there were--someone
from Memphis asked me, and a couple people from Texas and Florida
asked me if I would sell it to them…I told them I didn't know.
I really don't know. I would never say no because I don't know.
I looked at who would come behind me to take the business over because
I don't think anyone else is here--you know, close family.
So is that something you would consider when
the time comes--to sell the recipe and the business?
Right…Uh-hmm, yeah. I have offers for the business
now…Uh-hmm, because they--I guess they thought that I didn't
want to run the business. But I wanted to stay and do it myself
for a while.
Was it important, do you think, for your brother
to stay in Rosedale all these years? Was it something that he made
a point to do?
I don't think he ever wanted to leave…He never
talked about leaving. He always--because when we worked on the farm,
he never did work on the farm with us. He--well gosh, he got married
back in forty-something—1940-something, he got married and
he was working at the department store then. So I think he just
enjoyed Rosedale. He wouldn’t have never left Rosedale, uh-um,
To download the entire transcript in PDF form, please
tt bottom MENU
Home | Blog | History
| Interactive Map | Oral Histories
| Film | Chicago
Connection | Tamales & Music
| Recipe & How-To
Contributions | Beyond the Bounds
| About & Contact | In