Life And Death On The Avocado Trail – A Story Of A Bronx Mom & Pop Shop

Denisse Chavez, owner of Mott Haven's El Atoradero / Photo by Jessica Bal for Narritively
Denisse Chavez, owner of Mott Haven’s El Atoradero / Photo by Jessica Bal for Narritively

You’ve probably read some of Chris Crowley’s reviews on Bronx restaurants over at Serious Eats but this is one story you’ll want to sit down, relax and read.  It’s about the lengths that the owners of the Mexican restaurant, El Atoradero, go through to bring its patrons just the home style cooking that they’re seeking.

Crowley writes:

“In December of 2013, Denisse Chavez and her husband were stopped by two unmarked white cars while driving north on the highway out of Reynosa in the Tamaulipas state of Mexico. The vehicles had been tailing her own car, a worn-out 2002 model that her mechanic’s tools permanently called home, for four or five miles. It was a scene she had witnessed many times before.

A small-time importer and business owner in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx, Chavez, forty-nine, had been traveling by car from New York to Puebla, driving over 5,000 miles each trip, for almost six years. Along the route she’d seen gunfights break out before her eyes, as well as robberies and kidnappings. But she always escaped unscathed. Typically, she made the trip to stock her Bronx bodega, El Atoradero. This time, she had gone to Monterrey to purchase equipment for her then-forthcoming restaurant.

The risk implicit in the journey was not lost on her. She knew the price of traveling through an unforgiving desert engulfed in a violent drug war. Her son routinely begged her not to go. But Chavez was willing to traverse a distance one-third the length of the North American continent, despite the violence in northern Mexico, because of her profound love for her culture. She did it for the minty taste of the dried avocado criollo leaves from her sister’s farm; because she was unwilling to suffer the muted flavor of chilies masquerading as Mexican.

“When I go to Mexico, I always leave a letter for my children, because on the highway you never know what’s going to happen. I’m not scared, because, as I tell my husband, ‘I already leave what I’m supposed to leave,’” Chavez says without hesitation, rubbing her palms together as if to say, I am finished here. “So I tell my children, ‘When something happens to me in Mexico, please, don’t send anything, don’t answer the phone, you don’t know me. Leave me. Just leave me.’”

Head over to Narritively and read this amazing story of perseverance and business owners unwilling to compromise the taste buds of their patrons.


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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.