A throwback to Marvin Zindler's last full decade on Houston television

The ABC13 consumer reporter's famous "slime in the ice machine" catchphrase was at its best in the 1990s.

Photo of Emma Balter
Marvin Zindler of ABC13 coined the "slime in the ice machine" catchphrase.

Marvin Zindler of ABC13 coined the "slime in the ice machine" catchphrase.

Pat Sullivan

There's not a Houstonian who was alive between the 1970s and mid-2000s who doesn't know the famous words—amusing for most, dreaded by others—"slime in the ice machine." Legendary ABC13 consumer reporter Marvin Zindler had Houston restaurant owners quaking with the fear of being featured on his Rat & Roach Report, a segment that ran during the evening news every Friday for decades. But it wasn't until the 1990s, Zindler's last full decade on television, that the oft-recited catchphrase was codified in the Houston canon with its own jingle and very of-the-era graphics.

The KTRK segment, which began airing in the late 1970s, featured a round-up of Houston restaurants that had recently been flagged by the health department for various infractions, from rats and roaches to meat stored at improper temperatures to, yes, slime in the ice machine.

Read more about Houston in the 1990s

"He was a fanatic for cleanliness," said Lori Reingold, Zindler's producer from 1980 until he passed away in 2007. As the report's debut predated her time at Channel 13, she didn't know exactly how it had started, except that it most definitely had been his idea.

ABC13 Eyewitness News anchor Dave Ward (right) always addressed Marvin Zindler at the end of his Rat & Roach Report: "Thank you Marvin." The pair are pictured here in 1985.

ABC13 Eyewitness News anchor Dave Ward (right) always addressed Marvin Zindler at the end of his Rat & Roach Report: "Thank you Marvin." The pair are pictured here in 1985.

Steve Campbell/Houston Chronicle

Zindler's Rat & Roach Report was always slotted for some time during the 6 p.m. Eyewitness News on Fridays. Houstonians in households across the city formed a habit of watching him at the end of the week with their families, cringing from seeing the restaurants they frequented appear on their screens, and delighting in his quirky appearance and delivery.

"He was the same person on and off television," Reingold said. "Nobody could direct Marvin, he would do what he would do."

Zindler had elegantly coiffed, blindingly shiny white hair—not his own, but a selection of $300 toupees, which he had three or four of by the time he began his television career in 1973, according to Texas Monthly. He always wore blue-tinted sunglasses, even inside and on-air, due to his blepharospasm, an eye-twitching condition. Zindler spoke of "rest-uh-runts" not storing their food at the correct "tempetoors." The unique cadence of his speech and the repetitiveness of the segment made his words prone to being parrotted by viewers watching at home.

Marvin Zindler, pictured here in 1977, was known for his elaborate coiffed hair, which was not his own.

Marvin Zindler, pictured here in 1977, was known for his elaborate coiffed hair, which was not his own.

Houston Chronicle

For more than 30 years, Zindler ended his report with the same iconic sign-off: "Have a good weekend, good golf, good tennis, or whatever makes you happy." This was followed by a final flourish: "Maarvin Zindleeer, Eeeeeeyewitness News."

On early Rat & Roach Reports, Zindler and his camera crew actually followed a health department inspector into the restaurants, but, eventually, Reingold says the Houston Restaurant Association complained. By the '90s, the team was instead visiting the department's building every week to browse through inspection reports, which Zindler then summarized on air with b-roll of the restaurant's exterior and occasional photos.

From '90 to '99, hundreds of Houston restaurants were dinged by Zindler's incurable germaphobia, which went after low-end and high-end establishments and everything in between. "There were no sacred cows," Reingold said.

Big fast food chains made regular appearances, including Jack in the Box, Popeye's, Wendy's, Pizza Hut, McDonald's, Burger King, Starbucks, Church's and Whataburger, as well as Houston favorites Shipley's, James Coney Island, Luby's, Pancho's, Luther's BBQ and Timmy Chan's. 

A giant (fake) roach was among the items placed as a memorial to Marvin Zindler in front of the KTRK studios after the beloved consumer reporter's death in 2007.

A giant (fake) roach was among the items placed as a memorial to Marvin Zindler in front of the KTRK studios after the beloved consumer reporter's death in 2007.

Steve Campbell/Houston Chronicle

In September 1990, inspectors reported "potentially hazardous tuna" at Subway, perhaps a prescient aside to the company's present-day tuna lawsuit. Many independent restaurants are long gone, but some are still around, such as Express Wok, Tepatitlan Mexican Grill, Antone's and Sam's Boat (slime in the ice machine'd in 1991); Bravos, Frank's Grill and CN Seafood Market (1997); and King Palace, Thomas BBQ and Grotto Ristorante (1998).

The Rat & Roach Report also exposed fancy hot spots in town, from the Houstonian Hotel (1994) to the now-closed Greenspoint Club (1997). In July 1991, Zindler reported 13 violations at the City Hall cafeteria. "I'm sure the folks at City Hall really appreciated roach activity in their coffee shop," he said on air. But it was in October 1991 that the ultimate testament to Zindler's indiscriminate restaurant reporting was presented to viewers: the ABC13 cafeteria.

ABC13 consumer reporter Marvin Zindler delighted Houston viewers with his "slime in the ice machine" catchphrase.

ABC13 consumer reporter Marvin Zindler delighted Houston viewers with his "slime in the ice machine" catchphrase.

Billy Smith II

"Our Channel 13 coffee shop, in our studios in the 3300 block of Bissonnet, was inspected Oct. 2," read the script. "Health officer Harrison said there were corroded cooling racks, grease, food debris and spills on floors under the grill, cooler and sink, burnt residue on the oven, dried food residue on the slicer, there were also slime deposits on the water fountain and spouts of the ice machine."

"The lady who worked down there didn't speak to him for months," recalls Melanie Lawson, a beloved anchor who celebrated 40 years at KTRK in September. "He did not spare anybody. He would say: 'No one escapes my wrath.'"

Marvin Zindler's (left) sign-off was iconic: "Have a good weekend, good golf, good tennis, or whatever makes you happy." Zindler is pictured here with Dave Ward on set in 1985.

Marvin Zindler's (left) sign-off was iconic: "Have a good weekend, good golf, good tennis, or whatever makes you happy." Zindler is pictured here with Dave Ward on set in 1985.

Steve Campbell/Houston Chronicle

Reingold says Zindler even got banned from a number of restaurants in town, including the Palm. "They always said Mrs. Zindler was welcome, but he wasn't," she laughed. However, he offset the critical reporting by giving out Blue Ribbon Awards for Kitchen Cleanliness beginning in the mid-1970s. Houston restaurants that are still around today, such as Shanghai River, Pino's Italian Restaurant, Kenny & Ziggy's and Niko Niko's, received the coveted recognition.

Sometime between 1992 and 1994—neither memory nor the channel's archives can pinpoint exactly when—small yet key changes were made to the Rat & Roach production. Reingold says the catchphrases Zindler became known for evolved naturally from his own showmanship. The "slime in the ice machine" mention had previously been folded into the core of the report among all the other violations, but in the early '90s they switched it up, sticking it at the end in its own section. What resulted was a dramatic crescendo that formalized the catchphrase.

The segment was also jazzed up by all the technological innovations the '90s afforded, including visual effects and graphics depicting an ice machine that changes color, roaches parading across the screen, and Zindler's face next to a speech bubble.

Most importantly, "slime in the ice machine" got its own jingle, reportedly written by The Elliott Walter Band. It began playing when Zindler signaled the moment everyone was waiting for—"and now, for the big-big-big-big-big-big S"—continuing through the list of restaurants and the "What did they have? All together now!" prompt. This all led to the iconic finale, which by that point was often performed by that week's "Slime Choir" made up of students from a featured elementary school.

Marvin Zindler's Rat & Roach Reports became quite elaborate in the 1990s and 2000s. Each segment featured a "Slime Choir" of elementary school children screaming his famous catchphrase, "slime in the ice machine."

Marvin Zindler's Rat & Roach Reports became quite elaborate in the 1990s and 2000s. Each segment featured a "Slime Choir" of elementary school children screaming his famous catchphrase, "slime in the ice machine."

Billy Smith II/HOUSTON CHRONICLE

Zindler was influential in the restaurant world, but he also made a mark on Houstonians in more ways than one. A treasure trove of documents and other items gifted by Reingold to the University of Houston Special Collections includes viewer letters kept as mementos. In May 1990, third-grader Taylor Burns sent him a handwritten limerick about a mouse found in a stew. Another fan, in an unsigned and undated note, appended a newspaper clipping with a joke about roaches, wondering how many other viewers had mailed it to him.

Arlene Stripling wrote to Zindler in March 1992. She had been doing research for the Cypress Fairbanks School District when she discovered that the fear of slime is known as blennophobia. "Maybe some of the restaurants that you check on need to have this fear put in them," Stripling wrote in her letter. "I enjoy your series of restaurant reporting and thought this would interest you."

The Marvin Zindler UH collection, which is unprocessed but available to the public by appointment, also contains a bursting-at-the-seams, coffee-stained manila folder marked "Marvin's 70th birthday party." According to printouts of the detailed run of show, the event was held at the Sheraton Astrodome Hotel on Aug. 10, 1991. Attendees ranged from Houston Mayor Kathy Whitmire to Chuck Norris.

Speeches and clips broadcasted to the audience memorialized Zindler's contributions, which of course stretch far beyond his Rat & Roach Reports. In 1973, his first year at KTRK, Zindler exposed a brothel in La Grange called the Chicken Ranch, which became the inspiration for the 1982 musical "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." In the late '80s and early '90s, he traveled around the world for stories, from Vietnam and Russia to Saudi Arabia and Nicaragua.

ABC13's Marvin Zindler didn't just do health department restaurant reports. He also traveled to countries around the world for consumer advocate stories, including Vietnam in 1988.

ABC13's Marvin Zindler didn't just do health department restaurant reports. He also traveled to countries around the world for consumer advocate stories, including Vietnam in 1988.

Howard Castleberry/Houston Chronicle

Zindler was a consumer advocate first and foremost, having founded the consumer fraud division at the Harris County Sheriff's Department before he became a television journalist. He covered countless cases of everyday Houstonians who were wronged by the government and businesses alike, and was celebrated for his philanthropy both big and small, notably helping many children gain access to free medical treatment.

"As loud and flamboyant as he was, he was an incredibly kind, very generous man," Lawson said. "I miss him every day, he was the heart and soul of this place."

Zindler filed his very last Rat & Roach Report on July 20, 2007, from his hospital bed at MD Anderson, where he died from pancreatic cancer nine days later. 

Chron Special
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