Through food and unity, the Hispanic Restaurant Association celebrates Latin American culture

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John Jaramillo and Selene Nestor co-founded the HRA during the pandemic. Nestor said she and Jaramillo saw a huge need for an organization to help support Hispanic-owned businesses. “Because as you know, the pandemic affected everybody but, especially minority-owned businesses,” Nestor explained. “And us being Hispanic, that’s where it hits home.”

Hispanic Americans experienced tremendous personal and financial loss during the pandemic. A 2021 survey by the Pew Research Center found that more than half of Latino adults knew a family member or close friend who was hospitalized or died from COVID-19. Additionally, the survey found that 49% of respondents or someone in their household either lost a job or took a pay cut during the pandemic.

Additionally, a study by American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies found that Latino-owned businesses were disproportionately affected by the pandemic and that “Latino business owners were more likely to seek, but less likely to receive, funding from non-governmental sources than were white business owners.”

Nestor sees the future of the HRA as the main Hispanic serving institution that helps not only Hispanic people but all people. “We want to educate and elevate our community about what Hispanic cuisine actually is,” she said. “There’s a lot more to it than just tacos.”

The breadth of Hispanic cuisine is on display at Mares’ restaurant. The head chef, Pablo Aya, is passionate about infusing local Colorado food with traditional Mexican dishes.

“I have a really big passion for cooking,” Mares said. “I love messing with different flavors. I love messing with different food. I love putting smiles on people’s faces.”

Mario Martinez, a chef who works alongside Mares and Aya, explained that elk, venison and locally grown produce like microgreens are included in dishes. But Martinez’ favorite dish on the menu is one that reminds him of Mexican heritage: the cricket taco.


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