You've probably heard of Pete Aviotti Jr. A native Memphian, Aviotti is the special assistant to Mayor Willie Herenton. He's the former president of Dunavant Development, and he sits on the boards of the Riverfront Development Corporation, the New Memphis Arena Building Authority, and the Memphis Redbirds Foundation. He also makes a mean tamale.
Aviotti fondly remembers the tamale as a staple of Southern food, as ubiquitous as ribs, pulled pork, grits, and fried chicken. It wasn't until recently that Aviotti and his family -- wife Penny and daughter Maria -- thought to themselves, Where have all the tamales gone? Some 40 years ago, Aviotti's favorite tamale was made by the La Rosa family, who had a restaurant on Broad Street; when he resolved to reintroduce the tamale to Memphis, he decided to name his fledgling company after the beloved tamales of his youth. (Except for the name and a dedication to good tamales, the old and the new La Rosa have nothing in common: The Aviottis have their own, secret recipe.)
The Aviotti family has been in the food business for as long as Pete can remember. His parents, born in a small town in northern Italy, moved to Memphis in 1910 and opened a grocery store, Aviotti & Sons, on South Parkway -- one of those mom and pop spots with the store out front and a house attached to the back. Then, in 1977, Pete teamed up with Humphrey Folk to open Memphis' first steakhouse, Folk's Folly.
When the Aviottis decided to break into the tamale market, they worked with the Memphis-based Fineberg Packing Company to develop their all-beef tamale. Launched in 2004, La Rosa began selectively marketing its product to big vendors such as AutoZone Park and FedExForum. The company picked up all the major local grocery stores -- Kroger, Schnucks, Piggly Wiggly, Superlo -- and some smaller, high-end shops -- Miss Cordelia's, Lucchesi's Pasta, and Charlie's Meat Market -- as word spread about the quality of its tamales. The newest additions to the customer list are restaurants, including Huey's, Silky Sullivan's, and the Germantown Commissary.
La Rosa tamales are sold in different shapes and forms, from the most basic -- frozen tamales sold at any of the grocery stores mentioned above -- to more elaborate concoctions such as the tamale pie (served at Zinnie's East), tamale salad (found at the Southern College of Optometry's 20/20 Diner during the summer months), and the tamale casserole (made exclusively by Hog Wild caterers). A popular option, according to Maria Aviotti -- who is the company's day-to-day manager as well as the special-events coordinator for Friends For Life -- is the "heat-and-eat," which includes tamales covered in chili and cheese or an enchilada sauce packaged in a microwave-friendly container.
It's also rumored that the Aviottis are negotiating with a restaurant, famous for its barbecue pizza, to add a tamale pizza to the menu. And while the Aviottis are tentative about branching out beyond the beef tamale, fans can look forward to a beef-tamale dip, which will hit stores as soon as they can perfect the recipe.
For a complete list of locations where you can find, buy, and eat La Rosa tamales, check out the Web site at www.larosatamales.com.