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August 18, 2022

Progresso Tamale to close its doors

When Progresso Tamale Parlor closes its doors for the final time on Dec. 23, it will mark the end of an era. The restaurant on 230 Third St has been a Hollister institution for 77 years, owned by four generations of the Zuniga family. Margaret Zuniga-Healy, who is the co-owner along with her brother, Gilbert, says the moment hasn’t exactly hit her yet.

“It hasn’t been an easy decision to make,” Zuniga-Healy, 54, says. “It just seemed like now is the right time for us. We’re ready to try some different things.”

Zuniga-Healy said the family is not looking to sell the business, but “if someone came to us and really wanted to buy it, we would consider it.” Even though the Zunigas have 15 to 20 family members from the fifth generation, at this point none of them have expressed a burning desire to take over the business—and that’s perfectly OK with Zuniga-Healy.

“They’re in their late teens or early 20s, and they’re either not ready or not interested,” she says. “Most of them will be going to college soon or are in college right now. Either the time is not right or they have other interests, and that’s what makes them unique. We have several of the fifth generation involved with the restaurant. Several of the kids plus their cousins currently work here. So the fifth generation has been plenty involved in keeping up the tradition of the restaurant.”

Progresso has served hearty and rich Mexican cuisine for over half a century, but it wasn’t just the food that kept customers coming back—it was the warmth and friendliness of the staff that made the restaurant a place people returned to often.

“We get to know our customers really well,” Zuniga-Healy says. “As soon as they walk in the door, we know what they’re going to have. We know our customers, and they appreciate that.”

Progresso’s signature items include the tamales, enchiladas and tacos. During the holidays, the restaurant receives a spike in tamale orders, as they are a Christmas tradition for many families. Progresso also offers a variety of other tamale flavors only during the holiday season, including a green chile and cheese tamale that had become a holiday staple.

“We’re really busy before Christmas, and this year we expect things to be even busier,” she says.

Progresso has a storied tradition that few restaurants in the South Valley can rival. In the 1920s, Margaret’s great-grandparents, Aurelio and Maria Zuniga, left Mexico for California after getting fed up with bandits stealing cattle from their ranch. In 1939, they opened a cafe on San Benito Street, and it quickly gained a large following for its fresh, hand-made tamales.

For several years the restaurant sold its tamales wholesale, delivering them daily to stores and buyers throughout the Bay Area, the Central Coast and places as far away as Fresno. Demand was so high that they had to be resourceful in distribution.

“I think for a time they put tamales on a Greyhound bus and shipped them to San Francisco,” Zuniga-Healy says. “They used to sell little half-size tamales to the [now defunct] drive-in movie theater in Gilroy.”

In 1955, Aurelio’s son, Vincent, and his brother, Alfonso, purchased the old Goodfellows Hotel on Third Street and converted it into a restaurant, where Progresso stands today. Progresso has gained such a legion of passionate followers that Zuniga-Healy recently released a commemorative cookbook.

Zuniga-Healy said her best memories from the restaurant revolve around all the time she spent there growing up.

“Sometimes if my mom had stuff to do, we’d stay at the restaurant with my grandma,” she says. “We’d play with our cousins in the parking lot and see family all the time. I think my 16th birthday was there, and my brother’s first birthday was there. We built a bond that remains to this day.”

Zuniga-Healy doesn’t know what the future holds—she just knows after being the co-owner of Progresso since 2002, it’s the right time to move on.

Emanuel Lee
Sports Editor of the Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Free Lance and Morgan Hill Times. PR of 3:13.40 at the 2019 CIM. Hebrews 12:1.

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