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 has affected everyone, but especially minority-owned businesses,” Nestor explained. “And us being Hispanic, that’s where it hits home.”

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

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

Nestor sees the future of the HRA as the premier Hispanic-serving institution that helps not only Hispanics, but all people. “We want to educate and uplift our community on what Hispanic cuisine really is,” she said. “There’s so much more than tacos.”

The breadth of Hispanic cuisine is on display at the Mares restaurant. Chef Pablo Aya is passionate about pairing local Colorado cuisine with traditional Mexican dishes.

“I have a very big passion for cooking,” Mares said. “I love playing with different flavors. I love playing with different foods. 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 the dishes. But Martinez’s favorite menu item is the one that reminds him of Mexican heritage: the cricket taco.

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