The Deno family story is that Jim Maniscalco got his tamale recipe in the 1930s from a Hispanic friend. Jim made tamales for family, word spread and the public clamored.|
This explains why an Italian immigrant specialized in a Mexican food. Jim and his wife, Angelina, rolled tamales in the morning, and in the afternoon he'd set up his little cart in downtown Biloxi. The cry of "Hot Tamales!" lured the hungry.
The Maniscalcos were gone by the 1960s, and so, thought many, was the secret tamale recipe. At a family gathering lamentations rose that they'd never again taste Jim's tamales.
"They about freaked out when I told them I could make them," said Doris Deno.
She was once married to one of the Maniscalco sons, Roland, who'd changed his name to Deno for business reasons. After the family matriarch died, Doris would help Angelina make tamales, and learned the food art.
Doris resisted family pleas to open a tamale business. She didn't want to push a cart and was more loyal to D'Iberville than Biloxi. Thirty years ago, her compromise became a little tamale stand on D'Iberville's Central Avenue, a stand eventually moved around the corner on 1st Street.
Her son R.J. Deno began working alongside her, and both had houses within a stone's throw of the tamale stand.
Katrina water would have completely filled the stand if not for a ceiling air bubble that likely kept it from disintegrating. After the storm, the stand didn't look too bad from the outside, but inside was a different story. R.J.'s house isn't repairable but Doris' is.
The Denos say they've had trouble with disappearing contractors so plans to reopen by January also disappeared. Now they hope to open by March, and R.J. is gathering storm mementos for his new Katrina Wall.
"We must have 100 people or more a day stopping by to see if we are open or if we will reopen," R.J. said. "Sometimes, I just have to hide in my FEMA trailer or I'd be talking all day.
"Our customers should know that we appreciate them so much that we're not making tamales for ourselves. If they can't have them, our family can't have them."
- KAT BERGERON