Newcomers to Waxahachie may be curious at first as to why squeeze bottles of French dressing are placed on all the tables at a Mexican restaurant; but long-time Waxahachie residents know full well why Ninos has them.

What possibly was intended for the salads has spawned into what may be an exclusive Waxahachie tradition — squirting French dressing into the bowls of Nino’s unique tasting salsa.

“Actually I started squirting the French dressing in my hot sauce out of peer pressure at first,” said Waxahachie native Randy Blaine. “I noticed that all my friends were doing it every time we all went to Ninos. It was just one of the many ways to try it, and I thought it was pretty tasty,” he said.

Celebrating its’ 25th Anniversary of serving Mexican cuisine to Waxahachie residents, Ninos Mexican Restaurant has been continually owned and operated by Phillip and Diana Downs.

Most patrons agree that if there was ever a negative remark about the establishment, it was from ladies who sometimes complain that the men always get a bigger glass of tea.

“The restaurant was known as ‘Esparazas,’ which is my maiden name,” said Diana Downs, noting that it was originally her family’s business. “We were located at 207 Franklin Street right behind the tax office, and were there in 1982-85. “The city had actually condemned the building, but they gave us a chance to fix it up.

Diana explained that they did such an excellent job bringing the building back up to city standards, the city gave them a grade of 110 percent for their work.

Diana said they moved the business out on North Highway 77 to what was known as Cinnamon Rose Restaurant, which presently houses Don Jose’ Mexican Restaurant.

“Most people remember that there was a huge bundle of large cinnamon sticks that were tied together and were just inside the entrance of the restaurant,” Diana said. “In fact, I still have a few of those cinnamon sticks at my house today,” she said.

Due to the fact their contract with the building owners downtown had not expired, Phillip and Diana decided to moved their business back to Franklin Street for several months prior to moving into their present location in the Northgate Shopping Center, where they have been since December 1987.

The secret to the salsa recipe is known only to Phillip, who jokingly says, “It gives me job security.”

“People all over the country have asked me to share the recipe for the hot sauce,” said Diana. “All I can tell them is that we give the credit to God.” She said, “Actually, Phillip was mixing the ingredients one day, and through what we call a ‘miracle error,’ the salsa ended up with a new taste,” noting, “When I asked Phillip what he did differently, he said that he only used a larger spoon to add the spices.”

Phillip joked, “One lady used to try to get me to tell her what the secret ingredients were, and I always told her that I just threw a pair of old dirty socks in it.” After sticking to his story about the socks for a long time, the lady finally told him, “Well those old socks must be wearing pretty thin by now.”

Diana said, “Phillip kept using that spoon for the next 20 years to mix the ingredients to the salsa, and finally about a couple of years ago, the handle broke off and I guess it ended up getting thrown away.”

Asked how the idea for French dressing on all the tables came about, Diana said, “Oh, we got that from the old Loma Alta Restaurant which was located in the south part of town on the hill.” She said, “People have come into Ninos, and after being seated, they would look at the bottle of French dressing and shout, “Loma Alta! Loma Alta!”

Phillip said, “You know, our hot sauce has been all the way to Iraq.” He said, “Also, one time when a big storm hit in North Carolina years ago and people suffered a lot of destruction in it, people from here called there to check on their relatives and friends, and when they asked them what they needed some of them said, ‘We need Ninos hot sauce!”

“One lady who used to come in the restaurant quite often, told us her husband takes the salsa, mixes it with mint jelly and uses it for a baste when he cooks lamb chops,” Diana said. “Also, people have used it for spaghetti sauce as well,” she added. “and one man who worked at Johnson’s Laboratory always told us he was going to do analysis on it and everytime he came in, he told us he almost figured out what the ingredients were.” She added, “Oh we don’t mind telling you what the ingredients are — the real secret is the amount of those ingredients.”

“But no matter how hard people try, they cannot get the recipe from Phillip,” Diana said. “Not even me.”

The Downs have two children, Nicole Yells, who is employed at the Oaks Fellowship in the accounting department, and she also does the administrative and paper work for the family business.

Nicole’s husband, Kris, manages “The Lord’s Gym,” an exercise facility which is another one of the family businesses.

The Down’s son, Nicholas, is a warrants officer for Tarrant County, and was named last year as employee of the year in Fort Worth. His wife, Felicia, manages Ninos on Monday evenings.

Phillip said, “Our restaurant has been in business longer than any other restaurant in town.” He said, “A few others have been in business a long while, but had to shut down because of a fire or something else and then reopen — but we have the longest unbroken tenure of service of any present restaurant.”

The Downs also remember visits by a few famous people to their establishment through the years.

“Back in the early 1980s, when we were downtown, a lot of the cast from the movie, “Places in the Heart” patronized us,” Diana said. “We’ve had Sally Fields, and movie producer, Horton Foote to come in.” She said, “And Danny Glover came in quite often to eat and would just kind of hang out. We always tried to make sure other people didn’t bother him,” Diana continued. “We’ve also had Mr. Peppermint to come in, and singers Dennis Jernigan and Bruce Carroll.

“We have a meeting room in the restaurant for private parties, and we also have a karaoke machine in there to add to the fun,” Diana said.

Besides their businesses, Diana is also senior pastor of Malachi Ministries, a church located on Interstate 35. She and her family have been involved in the church for 14 years.

Concerning the public’s practice of mixing the French dressing with the salsa, Phillip and Diana both affirmed that they were very well aware of it.

Diana added, “Many have asked if Margaritas were our specialty, and we are very quick to remind them “No, our only specialty is just good Mexican food.”

For further information concerning Ninos, call (972) 938-3442

E-mail Paul at paul.gauntt@waxahachiedailylight.com