This story is part of 1 Minute Meal, a documentary series that uses food to reveal the communities, legacies, dreams, realities and unseen forces that shape life in New York City.
Denisse Chavez, who more typically goes by “Lina” or “Chef,” knows two things better than almost anyone else: mole poblano and what it takes to build something from nothing. Her life’s story is a slow but steady climb through every obstacle life has to offer, from poverty in Puebla to the challenges of small business ownership in New York—and the trail of death she’s crossed to live through both.
From the decades-ago moment she realized that New Yorkers were eating at “Mexican” restaurants that bore no resemblance to the food she grew up with, Chavez has committed her life to giving the city another option. She started with bodegas that stocked Mexican ingredients she procured personally, then began cooking antojitos at the store on weekends. Eventually, she gained enough capital, confidence, and press to open her first full-service restaurant, standing between her two corners stores in Mott Haven.
Not two years later, a rent spike motivated by her apparent success put an end to that business, which Chavez had already felt was not performing as well as it could. With no other options in sight for re-opening, she decided to take a risk when longtime customer and budding restaurateur Noah Arenstein pitched her on bringing her food to Brooklyn.
Today, Arenstein and Chavez have just opened their second restaurant, a Taqueria housed in a Gowanus beer garden. El Atoradero Brooklyn has fully adapted to its Prospect Heights environment, with an adjoining mezcal bar and a weekend brunch to write home about (especially the café de olla). Chavez no longer cooks in the bodega at Mott Haven, having found the enthusiasm for home style Mexican fare she’s been trying to spread for years.
When asked if she misses serving customers in the Bronx, she responds, “People here appreciate what I’m doing.”
© Music by Dorian Love.
Through September 1, Edible Brooklyn is collaborating with Edible Manhattan, Edible Queens, Edible Bronx, and the Staten Island Advance to debut 30 new videos about food and life in New York. Subscribe to 1 Minute Meal to see a food films from all five boroughs.