- Ray Mascarenas
- Instagram: @tiostamales5318467
Occupation: small business owner/restaurant owner
Hometown: born in New Mexico, raised in Colorado
Currently Living: Honolulu, HI
Opened in October 2016, Tios’ Tamales was born out of Ray Mascarenas’ love for the food that he grew up with in New Mexico and Colorado. From a young age, he knew he had a passion for cooking, and learned to cook from his mother. When Ray and his wife, Joelle (a Kaimuki native), moved to Hawaii from Colorado 8 years ago, Ray was in search of the flavors that he enjoyed eating his whole life. When he couldn’t find them, he decided to open his own restaurant. I sat down with Ray to talk about the restaurant, food, family, and life outside of the busy work day.
You mentioned learning to cook from your mother, can you tell me a little bit about her?
My mom is from New Mexico. She was born and raised in New Mexico a good chunk of her life. My family kind of moved back and forth between Colorado and New Mexico. My mom grew up in the country, so you didn’t really have a choice but to cook at home. A lot of the recipes that I know, a lot of the ways that I know how to cook is from my grandmother and her mother. Just the flavors over time I think have developed and that’s just where my passion came from. Just knowing this is homemade food, just flavorful.
What makes New Mexico’s food different?
So the flavors that I cook with, they all come from New Mexico. I have all my chiles shipped over here and even my red chiles, it’s all New Mexico style chiles. So its grown in New Mexico. It’s where the chile is from and it’s a New Mexico staple. So the foods that I cook with, the style, the way I make it is the way its been prepared for many years in New Mexico. It’s got a little bit of different flavors than your typical Mexican food. It’s got some Native American influence and Spanish influence. It’s got a little bit of Mexican influence in there as well, so the flavors are just wonderful. Little different from Tex Mex. It’s got its own flair.
Tell me more about shipping the chiles to Hawai’i.
When we order, we order about two to three hundred pounds of chiles about every 3 months or so. We are a distributor of New Mexico chile as well, so we also have little, small containers that we also sell. People come that are very familiar with chile and how to use it, and they’re just so happy that they can come and purchase it.
What do you enjoy the most about having the restaurant?
The thing that I truly love the most about this place is that I can serve people the style of food that I grew up with and when I receive the compliments from people, and I see the Yelp comments on how great the food was, that’s what makes me happy.
What has been the biggest challenge of running a small business?
The biggest challenge here is employees. That’s the biggest challenge is finding the right employees, because I’ve gone through a few employees that you know work out at first but then either got complacent or something. Just finding the right ones I think is the hardest thing about a restaurant or really any small business.
What is your favorite dish to prepare?
If it’s here in this restaurant, my favorite dish to prepare here is the tamale plate. It’s my favorite, because it has a variety of flavors. From the rice to the beans to the chile verde and even the tamale. But I always eat it with a side of tortilla, because it’s just the way I grew up. So it’s just the flavors of everything combined, but I like it Christmas style which gives me the option of the red and the green chile.
Where do you like to eat at in Hawaii?
I have several places I like to eat. I love food. I love trying different foods. I would say the first place I really like is Cafe Maharani. That is my favorite food. It’s Indian food. The flavors are just great. Its got great spice levels. The food is very flavorful. It’s just a different style of food than what I was used to growing up with, but I love it. So that’s one of my favorite places to eat.
The other place is the Doner Shack. I love the Doner Shack. Their food is great. The doner itself, they have chicken, lamb, and beef. The lamb and beef, of course I love. I grew up eating a lot of lamb. It’s like a tzatziki sauce with almost like a salad inside a sandwich with the meat and then they have this hot sauce that they put on there. It’s great.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
What most people don’t know about me is probably that I do a lot of God’s work. I like to feed homeless. Sometimes when I’m closing up here, and it’s not all the time, but if I see somebody in the trash can digging out their dinner, I’ll just quietly take them something to eat on a plate. You know something small and warm, a soda, a napkin, and a fork and just discreetly give it to them, because it breaks my heart to see people that way. I don’t know what they’ve gone through, but I just know I gotta do God’s work. I volunteer when I can at The River of Life. I try to donate to The Kupu Culinary Initiative, which supports the education, empowerment and creation of greater opportunities for at-risk children to become independent, productive and contributing members of society. I’ll help out some of the people at Kupu by donating food to their program.
The other thing, I was a professional boxer before. It gave me something to do with my boys (Ray is a father to 2 sons), to give them something to look forward to, to give them an activity. So I had one son in taekwondo and one in boxing, and we all got to work out together and just have a great time. I never had amateur boxing experience or no experience actually. I just jumped in with the pros and I just started winning fights and, I had great trainers. I was training with really good guys, and I had fun with it. I enjoyed it, and it helped me spend time with my boys.
When you have time to relax, what kinds of things do you like to do?
If I have time to close the restaurant, I go on vacation and travel, spend time with my wife. If not, if it’s just the weekend or a day or so, I love going to the beach. If it’s beautiful, I’ll be at the beach and enjoying it. I love taking my fishing pole. I never catch nothing, but I have fun!
Who do you like to follow on Instagram?
It’s called the @505inthe303. They’re in New Mexico and Colorado. It’s a father and son that started a food truck in Colorado. They took New Mexico style food to Colorado on a food truck and they do well. I like following them, because I get to see the food that they’re putting out, because I want to make sure I’m putting out authentic New Mexico style food besides just what my family made. It just opens up my eyes. It looks like a neat operation they’ve got going on.If you’d like to try Ray’s authentic New Mexico style food, please visit him at Tio’s Tamales at 1329 Nu’uanu Ave. You won’t be disappointed!
Mahalo to Ray for spending some time with me! Stay tuned for more interviews with “People I Follow on Instagram.”