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From Mexico to Minturn

Veronica Whitney
Oscar Gaspar, owner of Chilango's, a new Mexican restaurant in Minturn.
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Oscar Gaspar and his wife, Olivia, brought to their new restaurant in Minturn recipes of traditional food of Central Mexico that belonged to their grandparents.

Gaspar, 46, opened Chilango’s Mexican Restaurant on May 30 – on Main Street where Mariachi’s used to be.

Although Gaspar can’t offer Margaritas yet – his liquor license could arrive within a month – he says people are starting to pop in for tamales and house specialties, such as the meat molcajetes and mixiotes.



“Our idea is that people feel like they’re eating in Mexico,” Gaspar says in Spanish.

Gaspar, who is taking English classes at Colorado Mountain College, named the restaurant Chilango’s because that’s what he and his family would be called in Mexico.



“We originally came from Mexico City,” he says. “We left the city because of the air pollution. People coming from Mexico City are called “Chilangos.'”

From Mexico to Vail

The Gaspar family – Oscar, his wife, Olivia, and their sons, Oscar, 16, Diego, 14, and Edgar, 10 – moved to the Vail Valley from Queretaro, Mexico, a few months ago with the dream of opening an authentic “made at home” type of Mexican restaurant. They now live in Edwards.



“We came to visit Olivia’s family in December and we loved it here in the mountains,” Gaspar says. “We saw an opportunity to open a real Mexican restaurant with homemade food.”

Although there are many Mexican restaurants in the valley, Gaspar says, some of them don’t make their own sauces.

“We make the sauce for the enchiladas ourselves with fresh tomatoes, instead of using sauce from a can,” he says.

To make it real homemade, Olivia Gaspar is the chef. She says she learned most of her cooking from her mother-in-law.

“In Mexico, if my wife wants to have a good relationship with my mother, they cook together,” Gaspar says. “People relate in the kitchen. Food in Mexico is part of the culture.”

While their mother cooks and their father takes care of the business, Gaspar’s two older boys, who speak English, wait tables while they are out of school.

“I have two employees, and that’s all I can afford right now,” he says. “The kids didn’t suffer the change too much because they used to go to a bilingual school in Mexico.”

In perfect English, Diego says he likes the change.

“I like living here. I’ve never seen snow before and I was very impressed by it last winter,” he says.

Starting a business

In his move to Vail, Oscar Gaspar changed a pencil for an apron. In Mexico, he was an architect. Now, he helps his wife in the restaurant kitchen, too.

“I like the change, although it’s hard to open a business here,” Gaspar says. His first choice for a place for the restaurant was Edwards because of its large Mexican community and central location.

“But all the space was taken, so when this opportunity came up, we took it,” he says.

Because he came with a tourist visa – now he’s trading for one for business owners – Gaspar opened the restaurant with the help of his father-in-law, a United States legal resident.

“To open a business here, you have to do it right,” Gaspar says. “I brought $100,000 and already have spent most of it. I think you need a lot of money.

“We had to come up with rent for the house and the restaurant, and then you have so many other expenses.”

So far, Gaspar says he is losing money with the restaurant. Because he doesn’t have a liquor license, some clients get to the door and when they see they can’t have a margarita they leave, he says. Also, Chilly Willy’s, at the entrance of town, absorbs some of the clientele.

“We opened during a bad time,” he says. “We have money left to keep the restaurant open for a month. Hopefully, we are getting the license in the next month.”

Gaspar says he is encouraged, however, with a faithful clientele that cares more about the quality of the food than the drinks.

“We had some people from Nebraska who came three nights in a row,” he says. “And somebody from town comes every night. It will take time. The best recommendation is that the clients are satisfied with our food.”

Chilango’s Mexican Restaurant

455 Main St., Minturn.

Open daily 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Phone number: 827-5344

Menu sample

– Cubana-ham, sausage and grated cheese, $4.

– Milanesa-breaded thin beef steak with grated cheese, $5.

– Meat Molcajetes: chicken, beef or pork fajitas with onion, pepper, mushrooms and grated cheese, $13.

– Mixiotes: chicken marinated in spices and axiote, steamed in foil wrap, $12.50.

– Traditional enchiladas, $7,50;

– Chiles rellenos, $9.50.

– Corn tamales, $2 each.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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