Frank Liberto didn’t invent nachos. That divine discovery is commonly credited to a restaurant maitre d’ named Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, who whipped together the snack for a group of visiting U.S. Army wives in 1943 based on what he had available in the kitchen of his restaurant in Piedras Negras, Mexico, just across the border from Texas. But Liberto took a dish that had become increasingly popular in Texas and northern Mexico and turned it into a stadium mainstay, one squirt of orange goo at a time.
Liberto died of natural causes Sunday at the age of 84, MySanAntonio.com reports. It was one day shy of National Nachos Day.
It wasn’t that Liberto improved on the original recipe. Instead, he changed the delivery process in a way that satisfied both Americans’ insatiable craving for salty, cheesy goodness and concessionaires’ desire for a cheaply made food that could be delivered quickly at a high profit. His version of the snack, introduced at Arlington Stadium for Texas Rangers games in 1976, featured a cheese “sauce” that didn’t need to be refrigerated and had a longer shelf life. According to a 2013 Smithsonian.com story, Arlington Stadium sold nachos at the rate of one sale per every 2 1/2 patrons that season, or more than $800,000 in sales. Popcorn, which previously had the highest sales, only sold to one in 14 patrons for a total of $85,000.
It got to the point where nachos started showing up at Dallas Cowboys’ games, catching the attention of broadcaster Howard Cosell back in the days when ABC’s “Monday Night Football” drew massive television audiences.
“Cosell was trying to take up some dead air and he says ‘They brought us this new snack—what do they call them? knock-o’s or nachos?’ ” Liberto told Smithsonian. “He started using the word ‘nachos’ in the description of plays: ‘Did you see that run? That was a nacho run!’ ”
In 2012, Liberto’s company, Ricos Products, was pulling in $80 million in revenue annually, perhaps because ballpark concessionaires enjoy profit margins of 47 percent to 64 percent on the snack. Miller Park in Milwaukee has sold nachos on a stick (a stick of beef loaded with refried beans, rolled in Doritos, and then deep fried and drizzled with sour cream and cheese). At Yankee Stadium, a replica batting helmet filled with the more traditional chip-and-cheese option went for $20 in 2014.
“Our father, Frank Liberto, was a man of integrity,” Liberto’s son Tony, the current company CEO, said in a statement Monday. “He led our company with an entrepreneur spirit and a passion that had an impact on his family of employees, customers, business associates and friends. His legacy will live on forever.”
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