5 Questions With: Chef Tara Quinones, Papi’s Puerto Rican Cuisine

Where are you from and when did you open Papi’s?

I was born in Manhattan and raised in the Catskill Mountains of New York. I opened Papi’s four years ago in June. Our family has been in the restaurant business sharing Puerto Rican cuisine for generations. My grandfather, whom we called Papi, taught the entire family to work very hard. He owns many restaurants in New York. 

What would you want people to know about your business?

We make everything fresh here at Papi’s! For example, we make 5 gallons of Sofrito every weekend, and all of our labor-intensive appetizers are made weekly. We sell out of them quickly!

What would surprise people about our business?

We do a lot behind the scenes to bring Puerto Rican foods to Charlotte. We send away for Puerto Rican candies, and we drive to Florida just to get the popular soft drinks from Puerto Rico that sometimes aren’t available to purchase here.

What’s the biggest challenge for you as a small business?

Challenges change from month to month. First, we were super busy with a line out the door. Covid really put a stop to that. It took two years to get going again, and then a new challenge was staffing. People were coming out again and we had no staff. 

As Americans, we are always in a rush and there could be a line out the door. We are a popular place and everyone wants their food in 10 minutes. They show up in a hurry and don’t understand everything’s made-to-order and we are short staffed. Rent is crazy, food has gone up tremendously, and now the cost for good employees has gone up, so there’s always something to battle!

What do you love about having a business in University City?

The best thing about having a business and University City is that it’s very diverse. Not only do we have Puerto Ricans who eat here, but we have every culture coming in, especially regulars. We have people who didn’t know we were here, or couldn’t wait to try us and they are traveling from far and we are on their list of places to visit! We are super proud of the diverse patrons that come through and share their stories with us and compliment us daily.

1 Comment

  1. Sounds like a wonderful place! Will definitely check it out.

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