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    Monday, March 20, 2023

    Mi Familia meets needs of growing Hispanic population in New London

    Yasmin Santiago fills a customer’s lunch order Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022, while working at Mi Familia restaurant in New London, owned by her parents, David and Zarina Santiago. Yasmin runs a food truck, PinchoRico. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    New London ― In just three short years, the Santiago family of New London has made a major impact on the food scene in New London.

    The owners of Mi Familia Restaurant at 111 Montauk Ave. have managed to turn a 630-square-foot former hot dog stand into a destination for anyone seeking “A Taste of Puerto Rico.” Given the amount of people lined up on one recent lunch service, there are many looking that authentic taste.

    Business is doing so well that owners Zarina and David Santiago are in the midst of a major expansion, preparing to move the business to 365 Broad St. by the end of September.

    The Montauk Avenue restaurant has no inside dining, just picnic tables set up in front. The lack of seating does not stop customers from coming, Zarina Santiago said.

    “The lines started right away,” she said.

    That’s a good problem to have considering the financial beating some restaurants suffered during the pandemic.

    The new Mi Familia restaurant will have space to seat 50 people and Zarina Santiago said plans are in the works for a bakery and outside dining as well. The menu will be greatly expanded and include a variety of pastries, something she is also adept at cooking. The entire Montauk Avenue restaurant, she said, can fit into the kitchen of the new Broad Street location.

    She’s proud of the accomplishment and credits family members and the strong work ethic with helping to build the business. It’s a family affair at Mi Familia where you’re likely to find at least one member of the Santago family at any given time.

    Zarina Santiago, the main cook at the restaurant and a native of Puerto Rico, said cooking is something that comes natural for her, having learned recipes from her mother and grandmother.

    The food, heaps of rice and beans, chicken and pork, empenadas, bacalao and other items were packed into take out containers at rapid pace to happy customers at a recent visit to the restaurant.

    Zarina’s daughter, Yasmin Santiago, 31, is behind the counter, and said she’s learned from her mother, who “has the hand” when it comes to cooking. It’s the reason she decided a few years back to open up Pincho Rico, a food truck she runs with her Mexican partner. A new larger truck offering an array of Hispanic foods is being prepared for a return to its Colman Street location.

    Yasmin says the keys to success are consistency in the quality of the food and large portions at a reasonable price.

    “This isn’t Greenwich. This is a poor community. We have to be fair,” she said.

    Yasmin is not the only entrepreneur in the family. David Santiago Jr. runs Rico Chow, a Hispanic-Asian fusion restaurant at 403 Williams St. Rosa Santiago runs a nail business and Joshua Santiago, severely injured in a recent car accident, has been a steady hand at Mi Familia since it opened.

    Prior to the opening Mi Familia, Zarina Santiago said she and her husband, who was born in New York, had dabbled in other business ventures in New London. They ran a mini market on Willets Avenue where they sold sandwiches and appetizers. They also tried their hand running Captain’s Pizza for about a year in 2009.

    Zarina Santiago said it was after a move to Florida that she and her husband realized their home was in New London. They were lucky enough to find a place to offer the kinds of food she said she knew people would be drawn to.

    “We knew what our culture looks for, what food you would find when we go to Puerto Rico,” she said.

    There is a regular customer base that includes people from Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island.

    “People are wanting me to take the business to other locations,” Zarina Santiago said.

    But, she said, for now the family will focus on the restaurant at the new location. She said she welcomes the influx of new Hispanic restaurants in New London, filling a need to meet the growing Hispanic population.

    “We need a variety of restaurants, of course. It’s good for everyone,” she said.


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