EGG HARBOR CITY - When the Irish Eyes Pub and Restaurant on St. Louis Avenue became Spanish Eyes early this summer, the Harp Lager was out and Corona Extra was in.
It's a sign of the times in this diverse community, where 26 percent of the population is of Hispanic ancestry, according to 2010 U.S. Census figures. Latino owned businesses are becoming more common.
"I always wanted to be a business owner," said Spanish Eyes proprietor Ramon Salgado, a former director of operations for McDonald's in Atlantic City who is of Puerto Rican ancestry. "It's been my dream since I was a little kid."
When he saw the Irish Eyes pub was for sale in his hometown, he talked to his wife, Monica, and made an offer, he said.
His menu is written in both English and Spanish, and he's trying more of a Latin/Mexican American menu, he said, with beef or chicken turnovers one of the house specialities, along with a Cuban sandwich with pork, ham, mustard, pickle and swiss cheese on a toasted roll; and stuffed green plantains with shrimp.
The restaurant, which is open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week, covers other ethnicities as well.
"We've got the best chicken wings in town," Salgado said.
The growth of the Hispanic community in Egg Harbor City has been steady, but much of the growth came from 1980 to 2000, according to U.S. Census figures. In 1980 the city was 15.5 percent Hispanic; in 1990 that figure was 20.9 percent; and in 2000 it had shot up to 24.5 percent, less than two percentage points below today's number.
As the community becomes more mature and established, it is also becoming more organized. The Latino Club of Egg Harbor City got its start three years ago, right after a group of citizens organized the first Latino Parade and Celebration, said Councilwoman Hazel Mueller, of German stock but vice president of the organization.
This Saturday will be the third annual Latino Parade and Celebration, and it's grown every year, Mueller said. This year Cedar Creek High School's marching band cannot participate, because of a big football game, so the Pleasantville High School Marching Band will perform, she said.
Former Councilman Dennis Munoz convinced her to help him plan that first event, she said, because she's long been the events chairperson on council.
"It's to meld the Latino communities together," Mueller said of the large Puerto Rican community and the smaller communities of people from various places in South and Central America, "but it's also for all of us," she said of the Germans, Irish, African Americans and other ancestries in town.
The owners of Deli Shious With a Taste of Mexico deli, which opened recently at 115 Philadelphia Ave., are a blended family.
Married couple Monica Mendez, of Hispanic ethnicity; and Kush Patel, of Indian ancestry, opened the deli to provide affordable takeout food for the community, Mendez said.
Her menu is Mexican and Puerto Rican inspired, she said. Her speciality is pastelillos (fried pastry stuffed with chicken and cheese, beef or chicken), enchiladas, and tacos de chorizo.
The deli also has a small seating area in back, she said, and is open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
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