Across the street from Junior Village sits an unassuming storefront. Aside from the tall glass windows that frame the entrance, the building blends in with the houses that surround it. Google Maps’ street view shows cloth-covered windows and an abandoned side porch, but those images are now outdated. The space has a new tenant, restaurateur Edwin Maldonado. Maldonado is working hard to transform the location into a lively Latin fusion fast food restaurant, Latin Flavor, which is set to open on Feb. 28 at 129 Church Street.
Maldonado, who was born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York City, founded Latin Flavor in 2017 with one seasonal location in Willimantic, CT. His goal was to give people the opportunity to try the foods he had grown up eating, such as empanadas, which Maldonado highlighted as a popular choice among Eastern Connecticut State University and University of Connecticut students in Willimantic.
“[Some customers] didn’t even know what an empanada was, and we educated a lot of them,” Maldonado said. “[We serve] pulled pork empanadas, beef and cheese, chicken and cheese, we have a pizza one, shrimp empanadas.”
Maldonado also mentioned his favorite dish.
“We also have mofongo,” Maldonado said. “That’s my favorite dish right there. I have mofongo with fried pork, which is kind of fried plantain smashed, a little garlic oil, and pork skin. We serve it on a plate with a little green salad, and hopefully you guys will enjoy it. [We also have it with] fried chicken, shrimp, pork maws, shredded chicken, pulled pork, and a special one, meaning it could be something we come up with.”
In addition to empanadas and mofongo, Latin Flavor will serve loaded fries with a Latin touch, coffee, and specialty frappes.
“We mix our [frappes],” Maldonado said. “We’ve got all the flavors, the cherry Nutella, Oreo, and we decorate them with candies and different kinds of toppings that you will be able to choose, whatever you like. I will say one of our top sellers is the cherry Nutella frappe. It’s one of my favorites too. ”
One of the reasons Maldonado decided to expand to Middletown was because the new location will give him additional space and allow him to grow his menu. Due to limited space, the Latin Flavor in Willimantic struggled to expand past a Caribbean-based menu. However, Maldonado hopes that the larger building on Church Street will give him the opportunity to bring a wide range of Latin flavors to Middletown.
“We want to provide food from different kinds of countries, because there’s a lot of food out there…that people don’t have knowledge about,” Maldonado said. “The flavor [in Latin America], it’s amazing. It’s good to be tasting good food.”
Notably, the expansion of Latin Flavor comes at a time when other restaurants are struggling to stay afloat. The restaurant industry finished 2020 with sales falling $240 billion below the National Restaurant Association’s pre-pandemic forecast.
Nevertheless, Maldonado has found success during this unprecedented time. Key to this success was his decision to re-open Latin Flavor’s Willimantic location while most dine-in restaurants remained closed during the pandemic.
“I opened the door and I can’t complain,” Maldonado said. “We did pretty good with all the measurements that we had to do and all the precautions that we had to take with the staff and the way we were handling things. It was a good learning experience.”
Now, almost a year later, Maldonado has once again decided to take a chance and open the doors to his new restaurant.
“I’m so excited to be here, I’ll be honest,” Maldonado told The Argus. “We’re going to be here for a long time. I really came here to stay.”
Latin Flavor plans to be open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11AM to 9PM, Fridays and Saturdays from 11AM to 11PM, and Sundays from 11AM to 5PM. Delivery will be available on DoorDash and Grubhub.
Eliza Kuller can be reached at email@example.com.