Dominican food comes to Centre Street
If you’re looking for mofongo and arepas that taste like your grandmother’s, look no further than 100% Delicias Express on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain.
“We’ve had customers say, ‘This tastes just like my abuela’s cooking,’ or ‘I haven’t had food like this since the Dominican Republic,’” says co-owner Lewis Crespo.
Crespo and his fiancé, Jorelis Peguero, bought the restaurant from Crespo’s mother, Civelis De Los Santos, in February. They bought the restaurant just two months after De Los Santos opened it, Peguero says, “so that she could focus on the location in Hyde Park, which is a lot bigger. This was a lot for her to juggle, so we decided to step in.”
De Los Santo opened the first Delicias eight years ago, after quitting her job at a hair salon. Crespo says his mother realized that cooking is her passion and decided to try her hand in the restaurant business.
And if you’re wondering how Delicias gets that fresh-from-your-abuela’s-kitchen taste, it’s probably because Crespo’s grandmother, Maria Mateo, cooks most of the food at the new location and does the final taste tests. Crespo says while he seasons a lot of the food, at the end of the day Mateo has final say.
A family affair
Besides Mateo, Crespo and Peguero, Crespo’s grandfather is involved, handling food orders, and his uncle and cousin help out as well, making Delicias Express a true family-owned and family-run restaurant.
Being part of a family business means coming to work is a lot more fun than you’d think. Peguero says she worked at a hospital and was juggling the restaurant part-time on weekends and nights, until she decided three weeks ago to work at the restaurant full time. She says it was a big change, from sitting behind a desk all day to laughing behind the counter with her fiancé and challenging him to races to see who could finish their orders the fastest. “We keep it fun,” she says with a smile.
And while Peguero is learning quickly how to cook the items on Delicias Express’ menu, with her administrative background she excels in managing the business side of the restaurant. “She takes care of the business side, I take care of the food side,” Crespo says, who spent six years working in the food industry before taking over Delicias Express.
Besides the Delicias regulars —who Crespo and Peguero say are mostly employees of the businesses on Centre Street, from the health clinic on the corner to nearby restaurants — the restaurant also gets a fair number of tourists, who often ask the couple to open locations in their hometowns. And on the weekends, Delicias’ clientele is mainly JP residents stopping in for a bite to eat. For some of them, it’s their first taste of Dominican food.
Crespo says his mother chose to open Delicias Express in Jamaica Plain because it the community is diverse.
“She said, ‘There’s something that’s missing on this strip.’ From the post office all the way to the rotary, you don’t have true Dominican or Latin food. You do have Mexican options, yes, but there’s so much more out there.”
With Jamaica Plain clientele in mind, the family added far more vegan and vegetarian options to the Centre Street location, and customers continue to recommend more.
“We added a vegetable mofongo,” Peguero says, after a customer suggested it. “And now we’re getting to a point where it’s time to reevaluate the menu again.”
The couple plans to add more vegetarian options, as well as possibly adding seafood back into the menu. The specials, which are offered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, may also change. “The Monday special right now is fried pork chops,” Peguero says.
Some regulars have begun coming in on Mondays specifically for this special. Crespo says with many of their regulars, he knows what they’re going to order as soon as they walk in the door, and he starts preparing it before they even ask. “They say, ‘You already knew what I was going to order!’” Crespo says, laughing.
Although the couple is focused on establishing this new location and breaking even, which they hope to do before they hit the one-year mark, they have begun to think about the future. One day they plan to expand, and Crespo thinks Brookline may be a good place to start.
But for now, the couple is redecorating and perfecting the Centre Street location, with family and now a base of loyal customers to help.