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In Remembrance of Adela Fargas, Famed Owner of Casa Adela

 

On Monday, January 15th, the news broke that Adela Fargas, famed owner of Casa Adela, had passed away after suffering a stroke. She was 81-years-old.

A memorial of candles and flowers quickly materialized in front of the Lower East side establishment, which has been a staple of the neighborhood since its opening in 1976. Many others expressed their condolences via social media, including Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, who wrote,

“To pay a visit to Casa Adela was like stepping into the warmth of a Puerto Rican neighbor’s home. Adela herself welcomed all New Yorkers to delicious Puerto Rican food surrounded by the Island’s spirit of hospitality and generosity. Outside the restaurant’s walls, Adela was a center of Latino life on the Lower East Side and a tireless community advocate.”

New York City Councilmember Carlina Rivera also held a moment of silence during a city council meeting the next day.

Born in 1936 in Carolina, Puerto Rico, Adela Fargas worked as a seamstress at a brassiere factory before learning how to cook from her mother, an exacting woman whose supervision in the kitchen, according to Adela, was a mixture of tenderness and strict discipline. 

At the age of 37, Adela left the island for an opportunity to work at a factory in New York City, later to be joined by her family. She would instead get her start working at a restaurant on 4th Street and Avenue D. Upon losing her job when the owner sold the business, Adela began to sell pastelones and rellenitos in the street. Eventually, she eventually took over the luncheonette where she had been working, the original Casa Adela located at 58 Avenue C. It was there that she said she perfected the seasoning recipe and timing for her signature rotisserie chicken. A few years later, she moved up the block to the iconic location where Casa Adela stands today.

Long days at the restaurant, which is open seven days week, from the early morning to late evening, meant that Adela was a fixture at the restaurant. She would arrive at 5am each morning to begin preparing her famous pernil asado, one of the many examples of authentic Puerto Rican cuisine to be found on the menu. Her pasteles, for example, were in high demand during the holiday season, sold by the dozen to eager Puerto Rican customers. Beyond the warm, familial atmosphere, Adela was also known to feed the hungry, her generosity extending to those who could not afford a hot meal.

Celebrities and Puerto Rican icons would also frequent the restaurant to pay its owner a visit. Ruben Blades, Eddie Palmieri, members of El Gran Combo, Iris Chacon, Rosario Dawson, and Luis Guzman; to name a few. Benecio del Toro is also rumored to have stopped by. In a recent interview, she stated that Ivy Queen had been among her favorite visitors. Musicians in particular have a special affinity for the restaurant, especially during the annual Loisaida Festival, when it is common to see bomba and plena performed in front of Casa Adela.

Adela herself had been the subject of numerous profiles over the years, her longevity an outlier in a neighborhood overwhelmed by change and rapid urban development. For instance, she was featured in a New York Times article in 2015 and was also included in Ricardo Muñiz’s Homenaje series published by Centro Voices the same year. Below is a recent profile produced by Mario Ruben Carrion for the series “Indispensables.”

Adela’s children say they plan to continue their mother’s 42-year legacy and keep the restaurant going. Her son Luis has been the manager of Casa Adela for over two decades. In an interview with El Diario, Adela’s daughter Abigail stated that her mother would be buried in Puerto Rico, in her hometown of Carolina. The restaurant will be closed for several days before reopening, as a result. A viewing was held on January 19th, with many local residents and members of the Puerto Rican community stopping by to pay their final respects. 

© Center for Puerto Rican Studies. Published in Centro Voices 21 January 2018.