On Sunday, November 5, the snack world lost a true innovator: Frank Liberto.
If you don’t recognize the name, you probably recognize the snack he’s famous for introducing to sports stadiums across the nation. Liberto is considered the “father of the ballpark nacho” after introducing a new spin on the snack at a Dallas Cowboys game in 1976.
The combination of melty cheese and a spicy jalapeño kick was a smash hit, especially with Monday Night Football announcer Howard Cosell, and the snack’s popularity took off like a rocket after he mentioned it on the air.
Liberto, a native Texan, was born in San Antonio and took over family concession supply business Rico Products as its third generation of executive. The company’s snacks did well at concession stands and in movie theaters, and Texas grocery chain H-E-B started stocking Rico products in 1984.
Today, the company has grown into a snack giant, doing business in 57 countries, where its products are sold through more than 200 distributors, according to mysanantonio.com.
But while many called him the “father of the nacho,” that title had to be changed to “father of the concession nacho” after an essay for the Smithsonian, investigating the true origin of the snack, found that another man actually invented them in 1943.
Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, a maitre d’ in Piedras Negras, Mexico, invented the dish on the fly when a group of hungry army wives visited his restaurant The Victory Club. No chef was on hand, so Anaya ducked into the kitchen and whipped up a concoction of cheese, chips and jalapeño peppers he called Nachos Especiales.
Roughly three and a half decades later, Liberto’s take on the recipe, and the speed at which he was able to serve it, gained him the title “father of the ballpark nacho.” His gooey cheese sauce could be prepared quickly, cheaply and could be served at high volume. Liberto didn’t want anyone to be waiting more than a minute for his cheesy creation, according to food website firstwefeast.com.
So the next time you load up a paper tray with some spicy chips and cheese to take back to your seat at the Texans game, take a moment and remember Frank Liberto. Without him, stadium snacks would be a little blander.