Mott Haven is not only becoming the trendy place to live with waterfront views of Manhattan, but foodies are now flocking there too.
In December 2021, the popular Caribbean chocolate restaurant, Chocobar Cortés, opened its first location outside of Puerto Rico in the South Bronx’s Mott Haven area, at 141 Alexander Ave. Its all-chocolate menu brings a unique dining and cultural experience to the Bronx and NYC landscape.
The concept is an extension of the original Chocobar Cortés in Old San Juan, which opened in 2013, and was named the Best Restaurant in the Caribbean in 2017 by USA Today. Chocobar Cortés offers all-day dining, features a chocolate and coffee shop, breakfast and pastries, lunch, a lively cocktail and dinner atmosphere, and brunch on the weekends.
In addition to their signature chocolate grilled cheese with chocolate butter, the menu features a chocoburger featuring “chocochup” or chocolate ketchup, chocolate hot sauce, guacamole with chocolate and a chocobar salad bowl with chocolate vinaigrette. The beverage selection includes the famous Chocolate Cortés hot chocolate served with cheddar cheese, a special edition 80% dark chocolate made with Puerto Rican cacao.
“We have chosen the Bronx because it is one of the strongholds of the Puerto Rican and Dominican communities that grew up with our chocolate,” said Carlos Cortés, the executive director of Chocobar Cortés, who runs the restaurant in the South Bronx. “We hope to inspire the city and the world with the taste of our chocolate, the richness of our culture and the warmth of the Caribbean.”
The Cortés family has been manufacturing Caribbean chocolate from farm-to-bar since 1929. Currently, Cortés is the largest chocolate manufacturing company in the Caribbean and is one of the most recognizable brands in both countries and their diasporas.
Elaine Shehab is the founder and creative mind behind Chocobar Cortés. Together with her husband, Ignacio Cortés, CEO of Chocolate Cortés, Shehab toyed with the idea of opening a chocolate concept for years. After thorough research around the world, they set out to create a unique concept that celebrated the family’s rich history where Chocolate Cortés played the starring role.
Carlos Cortés, 34, who has been living in NYC for 16 years, never envisioned himself running a restaurant, let alone being in the family business.
He emigrated from Puerto Rico in 2005 to pursue his undergraduate studies in economics and philosophy at Columbia University. After graduating in 2009, Cortés worked in the family business from New York for a year, increasing sales and distribution of Cortés chocolate products in the Northeast U.S.
With a desire to help people and an interest in mental health, he switched gears and enrolled in medical school at NYU in 2013. However, while he was in training, Puerto Rico fell into a fiscal crisis, and was then destroyed by Hurricane Maria. Disillusioned with the medical system and feeling a sense of responsibility to help Puerto Rico’s situation, he combined his medical degree with a Master of Business Administration from the NYU Stern School of Business to pivot away from medicine.
“I was thinking how I could help Puerto Rico,” he said. “I felt a responsibility to give back.”
He spoke with his parents often and saw how much stress his mom was under to run the business in Puerto Rico. He soon decided he wanted to open the restaurant’s second location — in NYC. While his mom was gung-ho, his dad was a bit apprehensive.
“My mother was on board, and she said ‘we got to expand,’ and my father said ‘no, we don’t,’” he said.
According to Cortés, his father knew the potential of a second restaurant, but also understood how tough the business is. With most of the family’s history in wholesale and manufacturing, he knew it would be a big leap for them to launch in NYC.
But he eventually relented trusting his son’s vision to expand and bring the unique flavors of Chocobar Cortés to the Bronx. He began to search for a location and scoured numerous neighborhoods throughout the city.
Through networking, he was introduced to Marlene Cintron, president of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, who told him about the up-and-coming Mott Haven area and how it would be perfect for the restaurant.
Cortés rebranded the company, improved the website and social media, and was ready to take the South Bronx by storm.
“The sky’s the limit in terms of a demand for a concept like this,” he said. “I knew how this neighborhood was changing, but it is also a beautiful street and I love the connection the Bronx has to our people. Really, the Bronx is a cultural powerhouse and it’s underappreciated.”
Since opening, many customers have told him dining at Chocobar feels like being back home in the Caribbean and said they are happy it came to the Bronx. With warm weather on its way and the city’s COVID-19 vaccination mandates having drawn to a close, Cortés envisions a bright future for the restaurant.
“I don’t even see myself as running a restaurant,” he said. “I’m continuing my family business. Almost daily someone will say thank you for coming and that we needed a space like this. I love what I created so far and now it’s like where do we go from here?”
Reach Jason Cohen at [email protected] or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes