Pilsen Business Profile: Don Churro
Exterior of Don Churro El Moro de Letran
Photo by Robert Valadez
Let’s face it, everybody loves churros. Yes churros, those long tubes of sweetened fried dough. Warm and crispy and filled with fun-flavored goop, they can be eaten any time of day. Churros are one of those familiar Mexican food icons that reinforce our relationship with the culture.
I took some time the other day and did a little research, (meaning I read the Wikipedia entry). I wanted to know how this particular item became part of our shared cultural legacy. It turns out that they were a pretty hot item back in Spain and Portugal in the 18th and 19th centuries. They made their way to Mexico during the colonial period where they established a permanent presence in Mexican cuisine.
Way back in the day when I was a kid churros were a big treat. In the 70’s my mom worked at the Circle Tire Company on Blue Island Avenue. My dad worked the second shift out at the airport, so when my sisters and I got out of school we’d go meet up with my mother at her job. Every now and then we would stop by “Mr. Churro” after she got out of work. We didn’t have a lot of money, but mom could afford to buy one churro for each of us.
El Moro de Letran “Mr.Churro” was founded by Francisco Tapia Bañuelos in 1962. Its original location was on 18th and Blue Island, right where the Rudy Lozano Library is now. Unfortunately that location caught fire and burned to the ground. Undaunted, Don Francisco moved his business up the block to its present location.
Bañuelos eventually sold the business to Juan and Maria Molina in the early 80’s. They have owned it ever since. They changed the name from Mr. Churro to Don Churro, as “It’s more authentic”, Doña Maria Molina informed me, and they began to expand the business model. Their storefront is both a retail outlet and a wholesale distribution center. They sell their product both to individual sellers and to grocery stores all over the Midwest. They are currently working with a distributor who wants to take their frozen packaged churros to the Texas market. Could a nationwide campaign be next?
Don Churro is very much a family affair. Juan and Maria’s kids Juan Jr., Edwin and Carol all work the business. They manage all aspects of the operation: production, packing and distribution, even package and label design are all done in house. You can feel the family vibe when you visit the place. When I dropped by I felt like I was in their home. Doña Maria offered me coffee and sent me home with a warm bundle of churros to give to my mom. I drove home with an odd warm and fuzzy feeling, that sort of feeling you get when you visit your distant relatives in the old country; they take you in and treat you like a welcomed guest.
There are certain businesses in Pilsen that have been around for years. The Nuevo Leon Restaurant, Tortilleria El Milagro, and Supermercado Casa Del Pueblo have all spanned the decades. Don Churro is one of them; an important cultural “anchor” in our community. Do yourself a favor. Buy a dozen churros from Don Churro…
…and take them to your mom. She’ll thank you.
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