Suzanne Silva and Milissa Silva-Diaz remember their parents working long hours to run the family business at El Burrito Mercado in St. Paul. Now it’s their turn.
“We were ready to do something different and grow, and they were ready to retire … That’s why they ran,” Silva-Diaz said with a laugh.
The former Pepitos restaurant space very much remains a family business. Photos of the Minjares family that founded Pepitos hang across from photos of the incoming Silva family.
“We have not lost sight of who we are and where we came from,” Silva-Diaz said.
Though technically retired, their mother Maria Silva still advises on recipes, and their father Tomas is still the handyman in residence at age 73. He built a “wall of love” near the bar filled with family mementos: a rock stamped with the words “I love you” from a grandchild, angel statues that evoke his wife’s license plate, pottery pieces from Mexico and La Virgen de Guadalupe.
The city gave the green light last week to open the doors for service.
“I shed a few tears,” Silva-Diaz said.
“I haven’t had a chance to yet,” Suzanne said.
“It’s become more and more symbolic,” Silva-Diaz said.
Craft margaritas are named for women, such as La Traviesa (the naughty one), a classic margarita infused with a pour of red wine. Frida Kahlo portraits overlook an artesania featuring Mexican artists.
“My mom is a very strong woman,” Silva-Diaz said. “…Anybody who knows her will agree.”
Since the age of 10, Maria traveled to Minnesota with her family as a migrant worker in the beet fields of Minnesota, often cooking as one of 13 siblings.
Tomas sold corn and other street foods in Mexico.
“They are the American Dream,” Silva-Diaz said. “They had the opportunity to do something more, and we had that opportunity as well.”
The menu features St. Paul customer favorites like the enchiladas and mole. One new dish is inspired by a food stand in Sayulita that the Silva family loves. To make chicharrón de queso, cheese is melted in a pan and cooked to a crisp, served with pico de gallo, pinto beans, salsa and homemade tortillas.
Wednesday date nights will offer dinner-for-two specials. They’ll bring in flamenco dancers, DJs to play Latin crossover Top 40 hits, salsa music and traditional mariachi musicians. Classes will teach customers how to make tamales.
After the restaurant is running smoothly, the staff will add a grab-and-go deli stocked with tamales and other favorites.
The restaurant will initially open for dinner and expand into lunch service later this fall. For more info, visit elburritompls.com.
Next door, construction is well underway at Parkway Theater, a project by building owners Ward Johnson and Eddie Landenberger. They’re planning a mid-September opening date and an early screening of “Jaws.”
Visitors will walk into a lobby to find the old popcorn machine intact, accommodating friendly threats to not mess with the popcorn. An upscale bar with cocktails and draft beer will stand in the lobby. Local candies and chocolates will be available at the register. A portion of the Pepitos restaurant is folded into the theater lobby, and that space will hold classic arcade games and pinball.
An Airstream trailer out back will serve as the green room for bands, comedians and other acts.
Three hundred seventy-two seats will return reupholstered and repainted, spaced so each seat includes room to stand during live shows. A designer is adding recessed lighting to the ceiling and highlighting Art Deco elements throughout the theater.
Although digital technology is on hand, the theater will also screen 35mm prints complete with their original trailers. They’re outfitting the old theater projector with a new venting system and brighter bulbs and adding more surround sound speakers.
Johnson said the overall effect brings a different kind of cinematic quality to the screen.
“You’re seeing them as they were intended to be seen,” said Patrick Marschke, manager of booking, marketing and events. “…In a movie theater, you can’t look at your phone. And you can’t open up your laptop and check your email.”
“The whole mission is to take something classic and restore it to its original glory,” Johnson said.