Alfredo Alvarez was bored and tired of working at IHOP. It was the kind of boredom that comes from being in one place for nine years. He had worked on it for so long that he was even fed up with the smell of pancakes. âI was a cook. But my goal, always, was to open a business, âhe told me in Spanish. “I wanted to start a loncherÃa, which you’ve barely seen here.” LoncherÃas are popular Mexican snacks in JuÃ¡rez, the town where Alvarez was born and where his stepfather opened a store in 1975. And âhereâ is El Paso, JuÃ¡rez’s sister town just across the river from the Rio Grande, where Alvarez lives now.
Alvarez’s plan began by saving money. He then asked his son, an engineer, a simple but vital question: What salary did I get at IHOP? ‘ Whenever Alvarez talks about his college-educated kids, there is pride in his voice. “He told me I had to sell 20. I said: ’20 lonches a day? It is not too difficult.
Eventually, Alvarez had saved enough to buy the frame for a puesto in JuÃ¡rez. There is no exact English translation for puesto, but the food trailer comes close. âI got the skeleton of it and told my manager at IHOP that was it,â Alvarez says. âI gave my two weeks notice.
Once it got across the border to the puesto, it took a month to complete its construction. It was small, with just enough room for two people. There was a hot plate and a mini hood. Alvarez parked it at the Bronco Swap Meet in the lower El Paso Valley, where vendors sell everything from cowboy boots to Mexican candy and snacks. His sign read “Lonches Juaritos” (JuÃ¡ritos being an affectionate term for JuÃ¡rez). âI sold over 65 lonches that day,â Alvarez recalls. âI came home so happy. And that’s how we started.
Six years later, Lonches Juaritos has grown into a small brick and mortar restaurant next to the same exchange meeting where it all began. And today as then, Alvarez’s bestseller is the lonche de colita de pavo: the turkey tail sandwich.
While Mexican foods like tuetano (bone marrow), barbacoa, menudo, and just about any tacos you can think of have become popular in the United States, colitas de pavo remain associated with the border between El Paso and JuÃ¡rez. Maybe that will change. Smithsonian magazine says one of the reasons for the food’s limited appeal is that it’s about animal parts – the âbeaks and buttâ – that consumers in richer countries won’t eat. This is far from true in JuÃ¡rez, a town that the news agency Digital north calls “the world capital of the colitas de pavo”. There, the sandwiches are “one of the few dishes that can be assumed to be 100% local.”