Right Place on Wrong Side of Western
Back in the fall of 2006, the night before I decided to make an offer on my condo, Anjuli and I walked about three hundred steps down Maplewood and across Division to grab a bite to eat at Papa’s Cache Sabroso. Still not so sure about the neighborhood, I shared my apprehensions with Veronica, the owner’s daughter who was serving us, later joined by her parents Nancy and Victor. From what they collectively told us: not too long before, the neighborhood was indeed rough. You couldn’t just walk around here carefree like you do now. Not only between the gangs but if they didn’t like you, they would beat you up. They would follow to intimidate you. The fact that they had been here on the same location for almost five years by then and were basically a neighborhood family restaurant and functioned without much of a problem put some of my fears at ease.
Before Papa’s Cache Sabroso opened on its current location on Division in 2002, this family restaurant has a long history of meandering through Chicagoland. It all began in the early 70’s with Victor Garcia aka Papa Pollo’s older brother Augusto (Johnny – Taco) Velez and his wife Mercedez, when they opened the Johnny’s Hotdog Stand on Cermak in Pilsen, also famous for its home made fries. Since then Taco ran and sold thirteen restaurants. Among the eateries he created and ran –Johnny’s Taco House, La Parilla, Taco Shell and then City Submarine on North at Maplewood Avenue. It was hugely successful. Something that didn’t go unnoticed by the two restaurants across the street. Green with envy, the two owners banded together and hurled Molotov cocktails on Taco’s place. No one was hurt but the place was completely razed. The perpetrators were caught and prosecuted and served jail time for the arson. Even though Taco would take over one of their restaurants – eventually he would move and continue adding to the list of his ventures.
Victor was born in Rio Piedra, Puerto Rico in 1955. The youngest of six children, he was brought to Chicago by his family when he was only a year old. As Victor was growing up and while he went to school, he also worked for his brother Taco as did rest of their family. It has always been a family affair for us. Victor went to Von Humboldt and Yates Grammar School and graduated from Tuley High in Wicker Park and did two years of “try college”. Following that he worked for ComEd for twenty five years as Senior Energy Technician, while he also managed to find time to run his restaurant Papa’s Cache Sabroso with his wife Nancy. Big baseball aficionado, Victor played in Roberto Clemente and Ruben Gomez softball leagues in the mid Seventies. He is still active as the manager of the neighborhood league, the Pirates. Every November the league travels to Puerto Rico to play with the local teams of the island.
On the parallel track, Nancy Oñate Garcia migrated to the States from Quito, Ecuador at the age of nine. Her parents were to migrate first in 1962, leaving the kids behind with their aunt and the grandmother. They brought kids over in 1965. It was a classic case of chain migration in which 50 members of Nancy’s family not only migrated to Chicago but at one time or another all of them worked for Hart, Schaffner and Marx. Nancy grew up in Little Village, which is where she also went to school. Upon graduating, she worked downtown for Aetna Insurance for five years and then for the industrial gas company Liquid Carbonic for sixteen before moving on to work for Chicago Public Schools for six years as its head clerk.
Both Nancy and Victor were married to other people. They had married young. Victor was seventeen at the time of his first marriage and Nancy only sixteen when she tied the knots. By the time they ran into each other in 1980 at Coconut Night Club on Sheridan – they both had their first lives behind them with ex-spouses and one kid each.
After having started, ran and sold several restaurants in various locations, Johnny Taco eventually ended up on California and Wabansia with the chicken restaurant called El Cache Sabroso, which he ran from 1991 to 1998. By then he was ready to retire and pass on the baton. Victor had worked closely with his brother through all of his adventures, and it came natural that the baton would go to Victor.
El Cache Sabroso was doing just fine where it was, but Victor felt that he needed to be in the thick of it, not closer to but in the middle of where the Puerto Rican community was concentrated. As luck would have it, he knew of just the right location on West Division Street, across from North Maplewood Avenue. Everything fell in place and Victor was able to acquire the building. He moved to the new location in 2002 and changed the name of the restaurant to Papa’s Cache Sabroso.
Papa’s because somewhere along the line friends started calling Victor Papa, and the name had stuck. If you are wondering what the hell cache sabroso means, here is my take on it. Sabroso is easy – it means tasty or delicious. Now cache is a bit complicated. It’s a French word which means “hide”, as in playing cache-cache –hide and seek. Or cache can also mean “classified” as in FBI file on you! It also means a secret, a treasure and a lot more. Take your pick. Mine in this case is: Papa’s Delicious Secret. As he confesses; We have to credit Johnny for the creation of our secret sauce, which always keeps our customers coming back for more. Fine, but I can’t imagine eating his pollo without Nancy’s most delicious secret salsa! Seems, we are inundated with all sorts of sweet secretsJ
Whatever, what really matters is that it has become “the chicken place” not only of the neighborhood, but according to my chef son-in-law Carlo Lamagna, it serves the best damn roasted chicken anywhere. Not to mention they also serve one of the best Jibaritos in Chicagoland. Their move to the new location has worked out perfectly. So much so that Nancy would quit her full time job and run the place through the days and Victor would join her in the evenings. He retired from his job five years later in 2007 and joined his wife in running the place full time.
Nancy and Victor, now married for 38 years, have four kids of their own and together they have eleven grandchildren and twelfth is on its way. Add to their ever expanding clan, four great grandchildren with the fifth on the way. And their small restaurant is also full of family members working together. Among them, the daughter Veronica and her husband Miguel, Victor’s sisters Julia and Nilda, his brother Freddy and even one of his nieces – Malinda.
For some people the location of Papa’s maybe on the wrong side of Western Avenue – but let me tell you, it’s well worth crossing the line. Then again, Papa’s is doing just fine with or without you the east of Western crowd, so why should I give away a well preserved secret of this special BYOB destination??
PAPA’S CACHE SABROSO 2517 W. Division Street, Chicago, Ill. 60622 ○ +1 773 862 8313 http://www.papascache.com/
© 2019 Haresh Shah
THE MAN CALLED PARIS Just Look, Don’t Touch! Other than the restaurants and shops I often pop in and out during my walks, I run into an array of “regulars” who inhabit the street. After initial hi and bye, with some of them you begin to talk and develop a certain rapport and familiarity.
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