By Laura Plummer, Special to the Gazette
Four of Hyde Square’s landmark Latino-owned businesses were among 11 honored at City Hall Oct. 15 as part of at-large City Councilor Felix Arroyo’s Latino Heritage Month Celebration.
“I decided to honor small businesses this year because…70 percent of all Americans work for a small business,” said Arroyo. “These particular small businesses were chosen because of their contributions to our community. They keep our neighborhoods strong and employ our residents.”
The local honorees included Nobel Garcia of El Oriental de Cuba; Luis Ernesto Gonzalez of Crystal Fruit; Jose Gutierrez and Aida Gomez of Tacos El Charro; and Aida Lopez of La Casa de los Regalos. They all received City Council resolutions honoring their contributions to the community.
Gonzalez came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic in 1996 and opened Crystal Fruit the following year. Located at 278 Centre St. across from the Jackson Square T Station, the family-owned business specializes in imported fruits from Latin America, homemade desserts and, more recently, smoothies. Previously located across from Yely’s Coffee Shop for 11 years, Gonzalez reports that business has improved since moving to his current location.
“I’ve won 16 awards of this sort over the years,” he said, beaming.
The local favorite Tacos El Charro Mexican restaurant at 349 Centre St. is celebrating 21 years of business in Hyde Square this year, and this is the first time that owners Gutierrez and Gomez have been honored at City Hall.
Gutierrez moved from Jalisco, Mexico, to the U.S. as a teenager.
“We started as a taco truck,” recalled Gomez. Tacos al pastor is the house specialty, but Gomez, a Puerto Rican who has lived her whole life in the states, keeps tostones on the menu.
Gomez said that she finds a lot of joy in serving a diverse clientele.
“You learn a lot,” she said.
La Casa de los Regalos at 370 Centre St. is a gift store specializing in right-wing paraphernalia. Owner Aida Lopez has been honored before for her distinction as a Latina business owner since she opened the shop with her late husband in 1972.
Like many Cuban exiles, Lopez and her husband fled Castro’s communist regime and took refuge in the other end of the political spectrum. The autographed photos of conservative politicians in the store’s window display are further proof of that. After her husband passed away in 1977, Lopez took over running their shop.
Lopez said that business is very slow nowadays.
“Sometimes the distribution center doesn’t follow through,” she said, resigned. “But what can you do?”
Nobel Garcia, owner of El Oriental de Cuba at 416 Centre St., was recovering from an auto accident and was unable to attend the ceremony at City Hall. However, he was enthusiastic in a telephone interview with the Gazette.
Garcia’s aunt and uncle opened the restaurant back in 1991, when the restaurant was only half the size it is now, and Garcia took it over in 1999 when they retired. This is far from the first time Garcia has been honored by local officials.
“I’ve been given awards for just being who I am, for participating in the community, giving donations to the poor and elderly,” he said. “I really care for the community. This is where I make my livelihood.”
Because the city has always supported him, he said, he feels obliged to give back in any way he can.
“I believe in the philosophy that you have to give to receive,” he said. “I’m here for the city, whatever it needs. I give them a space in my restaurant to do their meetings.”
When the restaurant burned down in 2005, it took a 14-month break, during which time he helped to find alternative employment for his staff. When the business reopened in 2007, he said, “they all came back with me.”
“Our Hyde Square businesses have endured much throughout the years,” said Councilor Arroyo. “They have been a part of Jamaica Plain for decades and continue to be a strong part of our community.”
Other honorees included John Lee Diaz from the Law Office of John Lee Diaz; Jose Duarte of Taranta Restaurant; Miguel Fuentes of Fuentes Market; Raymond and Darlin Liriano of Liriano Market; Angela Atenco Lopez of Angela’s Café; Jody Mendoza of Mojitos Latin Lounge; and Nivia Piña of Vejigantes Restaurant.
The ceremony was followed by a reception featuring food from Vejigantes Restaurant, art by Rafael Angel Carrasco-Vazquez, and live entertainment by El Grupo Pleneras De Villa Victoria, Veronica Robles, Salsa Y Control, Kilombo Novo and LAMBA Students of Berklee College of Music.