CORINTH – To hear Lisa Dilworth Edmond tell it, people are eager to try two foods when they come to Corinth: slugburgers and hot tamales.
Fortunately for her, she operates Dilworth’s Tamales, a business started by her parents in 1962 in downtown Corinth. Edmond took over the restaurant after her mother quit working full time about seven years ago.
But they weren’t the first tamale operators in town – that honor belonged to a man named John Claiborne “Claib” Ferguson.
“Mr. Ferguson sold tamales here for years, way back in the 1930s,” Edmond said. “Mr. Ferguson had push carts and he’d take them to meet the trains. A World War II veteran who used to come in here and eat all the time told me once that when he finished his time in the service, and arrived here on the train, he ran right past his own mother to get to Mr. Ferguson’s tamales. He said he took one bite and knew he was home.”
In the 1960s, Ferguson decided to retire, and he sold his tamale recipe to local businessman Don Redding, said Edmond, 42. And Redding talked LC Dilworth, Edmond’s father, into buying the recipe from him and opening up his own restaurant.
“Daddy started out with Mr. Ferguson’s recipe, but then he changed it up some,” she said. “And that’s what we make today.”
Tourists help business
Tamales, which Edmond said came to Mississippi through Mexican immigrants who worked in the Delta in the 1930s, are made of a mixture of meal, beef and spices.
The mixture is wrapped in parchment paper and rolled into thin cylinders just a little bit bigger than pencils. A dozen of them are wrapped tightly in foil packets and dropped into boiling water.
They come two ways – hot or mild – and they run $3 a dozen.
“A pot holds 25 dozen and we’ll make four pots a day during the week and six on the weekends during the summer,” Edmond said. “In the winter, we’ll make eight pots a day during the week and 12 on the weekends.”
Edmond said folks generally prefer to eat tamales in the colder months and that she used to see a drop off in business during the summer, but not anymore.
“It’s not so bad now because of tourists,” she said. “We get a lot of people from Tupelo, Memphis, Alabama. We have a lot of people come here when they’re visiting Pickwick. They hear about us and they want to come try our tamales. There’s two things people want when they come to Corinth: hot tamales and slugburgers.”
Dining room shuts down
When LC and Rable Dilworth opened their business in 1962, it used to face the railroad tracks, or Wick Street, and it sat next to a tailor and a barber shop.
For years, there was nothing but a dining room and a kitchen. In the late 1970s, the Dilworths decided to move the entrance to Taylor Street. In the mid-1980s, LC Dilworth, who died in 2006, bought the tailor and barber shops, gutted them, and put a drive-through on the side of his building.
For a dozen years, you could either dine in or drive through.
And then in 1998, the family closed the dining room for good after a robbery. Rable Dilworth was closing up the restaurant one evening when two men walked in the door and decided to help themselves to the cash register.
“I was thankful I had a place where people felt they could come in and sit down and order food,” said Rable Dilworth, 75. “Until those men came in here with a weapon.”
Now, only the drive-through, which faces Wick Street, is open to customers.
“I have people who have been coming here since they were children – they were brought here by parents or grandparents,” Edmond said. “Now, they bring their children here.”
Mr. Johnny’s cart
Today, Edmond operates the restaurant with her sister-in-law, Sandra Dilworth, and two part-time employees, Adriana Longoria and Tyler Patterson.
For years, you couldn’t think of Dilworth’s without two long-time employees coming to mind: Sallie Morrison and Johnny Johnson.
“We had this cart – it was really a big tricycle with a cart on the back that held a big metal box,” Edmond said. “Mr. Johnny drove that cart all over town selling tamales for us. Now, that cart’s at the Crossroads Museum.”
And that’s fine with Edmond, who is happy just to sell tamales out her drive-through window. Each dozen is wrapped in white butcher paper and tucked in a brown paper bag.
“Of course I eat tamales,” she said when asked. “You have to taste what you cook. I have to make sure it’s good. I can’t just throw it at people out the window and hope it’s right.”
– Where: 111 Taylor St. in downtown Corinth.
– When: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 to 6 p.m.
– What: Mild or hot tamales; drive-through only.
– Info: Call (662) 665-0833.
Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal