Jose and his mother Celeste own Paseo Chapin, a Guatemalan restaurant in MacArthur Park, since 1982. Paseo Chapin was part of KYCC’s Emergency Hot Meal Delivery Program at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
Whose restaurant is this?
This is my mom’s restaurant. She’s had it since the 80s. She came into ownership from my uncle. My mom came up with the name Paseo Chapin. Chapin is a term to call a Guatemalan person and paseo is a stroll.
When was it founded?
Celeste: My sister and brother were the owners in 1982, and I’ve been the owner for the last 15 years.
So, your uncle had it first, and she took it over?
Yeah, she worked next door and eventually started working here.
What’s next door?
It’s a grocery store that imports Guatemalan products. This is a Central American neighborhood. For a while, Paseo Chapin was the only authentic Guatemalan restaurant around here.
When did you close because of COVID-19?
What was that like? You just had to shut everything down?
First, we put a little sign up that read, “We’ll be open in two weeks.” Nobody knew anything, so we thought we’d open in two weeks, but eventually we just stayed closed. My mom has worked here all her life—every day she’s here. It was a routine to be here and be present. The pandemic gave her a little break, but I remember she was getting sad that she wasn’t working.
Celeste: I wasn’t working, and I had about 20-30 regular customers. I’m all alone. I have 4 boys.
It was so bizarre because nobody knew anything. The longer it took to open, the more worrisome it became. KYCC was the biggest blessing because there was finally some income coming in.
Celeste: Believe me, KYCC helped us a lot. For two months, we only had one waitress and one cook. KYCC helped us survive. We were closed for four months, completely closed.
Can you tell me when you started working with KYCC?
Celeste: About two months ago.
And you were providing meals, right? Did you box the meals?
Yeah we went and got all the utensils—we got everything. At first, the Emergency Hot Meal Delivery Program was a little complicated because it’s more of a catering service that we had to figure out. We were kind of miserable after the first time because we didn’t know how successful it was. Then KYCC called us back and asked if we would like to do it once a week. We jumped on the opportunity and loved it. It was fun.
Celeste: KYCC treated us like human beings. They made sure to let us know that we were doing a good job. We really needed the money. The waitress and cook have worked here for about 25 years, maybe more, and they have families.
It was really nice, because since we closed, we didn’t see the waitress or the cook. Our cook is an elder. Before the pandemic, we would wake up at five in the morning to pick him up around Normandie and Sunset. Seeing him again felt comforting, like, oh, let’s get up and go to work. It’s a big blessing to have something to do, to get up for—to see each other again. When the program ended, our cook asked if he could keep coming to the restaurant because he wanted the routine.
Now that we’re doing the Alfresco, we appreciate seeing each other and having to work. More than anything, KYCC was fun. It felt like a snowball of appreciation. To be able to work and to help people and to cook again. I know my mom is so happy. She’s worked here since she was 19. My entire life she was always working. She’s always been a working mom, and it’s because of the KYCC Hot Meal program that she was able to work again.
Celeste: The most important thing is that KYCC helped us in the most difficult time. My sons wanted me to stay home and they had to pay the rent because we never stopped paying rent.
What’s the specialty here?
Guatemalan tamales. They’re wrapped in plantain leaves, so they’re a lot more gelatinous and moister compared to Mexican ones, which people are most familiar with. Also, pepian, which is like a thick stew with toasted pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cinnamon, and other spices, and revolcado. Revolcaldo is one of those soul foods that people make to use every part of the animal. It has pig snout, ears, heart, and tongue. It’s so good.
Who are the clients here?
They’re typically paisano, which is someone from your home country. They’re people that come in with their Guatemalan ID’s. The regulars. They know us and know that we treat them well. They don’t read menus—they know exactly what food to order. Our regulars come in and ask for what they want. Our clientele is loyal. It’s the same people pretty much every week. Everyone knows each other, and some of our best customers are part of the LGBTQ+ community. We have a trans woman that always comes with her friends. It’s lovely. It’s definitely a safe space here.
Where is your favorite place in the MacArthur Park neighborhood?
There’s this place called Crawford’s. It’s a bar. They have phenomenal fried chicken. For sure, they brine it, so it’s juicy and soft. It’s cooked perfectly. During the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, I made pickles to sell and donate to BLM. I bought a bunch of jars and vegetables, and then I made the pickles with soy sauce brine, like pickled franc soy sauce and mirin. I also made different labels to bring awareness to what’s going on. I made a Black Trans Lives Matter label and a label with a cat for Elijah McClain because he played violins for cats. I was really into it, and I was shipping these pickles to different states, like New York and Wisconsin
I heard about 30-40% of restaurants are going to shut down. What do you think?
I think so. That makes sense. We don’t have the clientele to do DoorDash. We don’t have the most tech savvy people that come here, so it has to be word of mouth for us.