The first year for any business, especially a restaurant, comes with immense challenges. But the owners of Chocobar Cortés, which opened its doors in 2021 at 141 Alexander Ave. in Mott Haven, have encountered more than just first-year blues, as the storefront has been the target of four burglaries over the past two weeks, including a break-in on Halloween.
In December 2021, the popular Caribbean chocolate restaurant Chocobar Cortés opened in Mott Haven as an extension of the original Chocobar Cortés in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, which opened in 2013, and was named the Best Restaurant in the Caribbean in 2017 by USA Today. And its all-chocolate menu has brought a unique dining experience to the Bronx.
But store owner Carlos Cortés told the Bronx Times that ever since the first break-in on Oct. 11 to the most recent on Monday, Oct. 31, he’s been “up all night” keeping watch at the restaurant, which recently had its door removed by burglars. Cortes believes that there may have been two repeat offenders involved with the numerous break-ins, which he estimates includes $10,000 worth of damages and stolen or broken property.
NYPD officials told the Bronx Times that the suspect at the Oct. 28 incident forcibly opened the side door and removed a cash register inside. A similar situation allegedly took place on Halloween night, as burglars gained access through the same faulty door. However, while suspects of the recent break-ins didn’t make off with any cash in-hand, owners of the restaurant are now left with costly repairs and questions about their future and viability in the South Bronx.
“Closing shop is definitely something we are considering right now,” Cortés admitted. “The first year of any business, and especially a restaurant is really, really tough. We came here to create a safe space for people to share happy moments with their loved ones, and I think we’ve been able to achieve that. This community deserves nice things and I want to continue to be able to do that … We can only absorb so much, both financially and emotionally.”
The Bronx Times couldn’t confirm if any suspects in connection with the incidents have been arrested, and police sources could not provide details about the first two burglaries when reached on Tuesday.
Cortés said that issues of break-ins in the area isn’t uncommon — stating that a lack of street lighting on a major thoroughfare like 134th Street and a concerted public safety efforts are needed to prevent further burglaries — and without any recompense, Bronx businesses struggle to deal with the toll of continual thefts.
The NYPD’s 40th Precinct, which covers Mott Haven, has reported a 104% rise in burglaries over the past year, including 126 commercial burglaries in 2022. The Third Avenue Business Improvement District and elected officials have asked for additional manpower in response to break-ins in the area such as overnight patrol. Of the 126 commercial robberies in Mott Haven, 81 occurred at night, according to NYPD CompStat data.
Although Mott Haven, much like its South Bronx neighbor Port Morris, is experiencing record-high development and an infusion of financing, local businesses continue to be plagued by systemic concerns related to safety. Cortés said that developers who build in the South Bronx, should also be tasked with further investment into the community, not just building management.
On Monday, Cortés said the store’s “biggest fight and number one priority” is getting their landlord to pay the store’s security gates, an expense that owners say they cannot currently afford. Cortés also said that grants should be provided to small businesses for expenses related to dealing with break-ins or to improve security measures to help prevent future occurrences.
Chocobar Cortés is a tenant in a four-story mixed-used building that was constructed in 2018. Cortés told the Bronx Times on Tuesday, the day after the fourth break-in, that he was able to haggle with the landlord 20 Bruckner Development LLC — who owns multiple properties in the area — to make changes, but only through rent concessions.
“The doors are faulty. It’s not just a restaurant security issue, but it’s also a building security issue because they can also get into the apartments upstairs,” he said.
“To be clear, I’m not advocating for a more punitive justice system or for more money flowing to the police department because I don’t think they are currently using their resources effectively. But it’s clear that whatever we have now is not working. Heavy investments are needed in this area, not just infrastructure wise like better street lighting, but also in social programs, education, and rehabilitation programs in order to live in a safer, more equitable society for everyone.”
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