Ask Me: Mexican spaghetti was favorite at Zenny’s
Question: What is the history of Zenny’s Mexican Restaurant? I have tried for years to duplicate their Mexican spaghetti recipe.
– Clarence Edwin and
“Ed” Hunt, Fresno
Answer: Zenny’s and Nida’s Mexican restaurants were named for Zenaida Smyth, who opened the original Zenny’s at the southwest corner of Blackstone and Olive avenues in the late 1940s.
“It was a hole-in-the-wall when we bought it,” said Smyth, of Fresno, who ran the restaurants with her ex-husband, the late Robert Waterston, her mother, the late Virginia Smith, her brothers, Del Contreras and the late John Contreras, and her sister, Ginny Livingston.
The roof leaked and the dirt parking lot turned to mud when it rained, Smyth said, but that didn’t keep customers away. The family put pots around the small cafe to catch drips. Customers stayed in their cars to wait for a table, and once inside they ate with their coats on to avoid getting wet, she said.
“That’s how good the food was,” Smyth said. “We finally got enough money to fix the roof and pave the parking lot.”
Zenny’s was open 24 hours. Virginia Smith served free tortilla chips and coffee to college students who studied there late at night.
The most popular dish on the menu was the combination plate for $1 with “a little bit of everything,” Smyth said.
Smyth said her mother made the restaurant’s popular red sauce by boiling dried red chilies and grinding them in a machine that removed the skins and seeds. The red sauce was used in recipes and as a base for other sauces. Smith also toasted and peeled green chilies for the verde sauce.
To make the sauce for Mexican spaghetti, Smith made a gravy from the red sauce by adding flour, lard, salt, fresh garlic and cumin, Smyth said.
In 1956, the family opened Nida’s, also named for Zenaida, on the northeast corner of Blackstone and Olive, across from Zenny’s.
Nida’s was larger and more upscale, serving Mexican and American dishes. The familiar combo plate sold for about $3. Nida’s closed after one year. The family also ran another Nida’s on Tollhouse Road in Clovis for about two years.
The family opened a second Zenny’s at Roosevelt and Belmont avenues in about 1962 and closed after Smith died in 1966. The original Zenny’s closed in 1968.
Q: Please settle an argument for me: Was there a public pool on Maple Avenue north of Clinton Avenue? Apartments are there now.
– Lupe Perez, Fresno
A: The North Maple Plunge was located on Maple Avenue between Terrace and Brown avenues from 1951 to 1963.
Norman R. Bybee owned and operated the business, which was shown in Fresno city directories as a public pool until 1953, when the name North Maple Plunge appears in the listings.
The pool closed in about 1964 when Bybee had the property rezoned from business to residential use. He later moved to the Sacramento area.
More about Dr. George Hashiba: After the answer to a question about Dr. George Hashiba’s office and home on Fresno Street ran on Nov. 28, historian and teacher Bill Coate emailed information about the family who lived in the building while Hashiba was interned during World War II.
Sometime after 1941, grocery store owner Henry Diel, his wife, Mildred, and their daughter, Nadine, moved into Hashiba’s house, Coate wrote.
The Diels apparently arranged to care for the home while Hashiba was interned at the Tule Lake center. He returned to his home and practice in 1946.
Coate, students at Steinbeck Elementary School and their teacher, Beth Hullender — who is Nadine’s daughter — are trying to discover more about the arrangement between Hashiba and the Diels.
They also are writing a book about 50 long-lost love letters to Nadine from her fiance;, air cadet Robert Lee, who died in a training flight in Colorado on Valentine’s Day in 1944.
“They are beautiful expressions of a couple in love,” Coate said.
By Paula Lloyd