A Mott Haven Pioneer

By / Photography By Daniel Kwak | October 04, 2017
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Restaurant owner Rosa Gracia stands in front of her business Mott Haven Bar & Grill
Restaurant owner Rosa Gracia stands in front of her business Mott Haven Bar & Grill

Rosa Garcia has been on her own since the age of 18. Naturally independent, she worked her way through college—the first in her family to earn a degree. Now, she is a mother of two, and the only female restaurateur in the neighborhood. Her brainchild, Mott Haven Bar & Grill, is a classic gastropub with international flavor inspiration. Garcia also owns and runs Mott Haven on the Go, a new food truck that offers healthy and organic food options.

Her enterprising spirit was forged by lessons in womanhood taught by her mother and grandmother. “I don’t believe in sleeping too much,” Garcia says. Back in the Dominican Republic, at 7 years old, Garcia would wake up to fetch water from the well, help her grandmother feed the chickens and make the family meals. “I couldn’t quite understand why I was working at that age,” she says “But now, I get it, and it feels very natural to me.”

Garcia and her family moved to Washington Heights when she was 9. She later made the Bronx her home while studying at Lehman College.

In 2013, damage from Hurricane Sandy and a legal dispute between the original owners of the restaurant, then known as Bruckner Bar and Grill, caused the restaurant to close for 13 months. At the time, Garcia was the restaurant’s manager and before that had been the building’s property manager. She independently presented a plan to the landowner to renovate the restaurant and make it her own. It was a classic case of being in the right place at the right time, she says. “If you want something done right you have to do it yourself.” She knew both sides of the business and was confident she could salvage what was left.

That ambition landed her a 10-year lease to the restaurant she once managed, and four years later she has revolutionized the neighborhood. 

Colorful Mott Haven mural as seen from inside the restaurant
Healthy items on the menu include salads like this one with steak and spinach
Photo 1: Colorful Mott Haven mural as seen from inside the restaurant
Photo 2: Healthy items on the menu include salads like this one with steak and spinach

In her latest project, Mott Haven on the Go, Garcia recommits to making a change in the neighborhood. “I would like to be part of offering healthier food options for residents of the Bronx,” she says. The food truck services the commercial HUB / Third Avenue neighborhood. Customers can get convenient salads in a cup and whole-wheat wraps that are both fast and healthy.

Others have noticed Rosa’s good work. This year she won an American Entrepreneurship Award to kick-start the food truck. On November 18, she will be celebrating Mott Haven Bar & Grill’s fourth anniversary. “I’m still in shock,” she says with a humble smile. “I try to enjoy the moment. Take everything one day at a time.”

Garcia also makes it a habit to implement change through altruism, using Mott Haven Bar & Grill as her platform. “I use this restaurant to open the doors to people.” Her warm welcome has transformed a simple eatery into a meeting place and a creative space. “An artist was found because we are doing an open mic,” she says. She frequently hosts women’s empowerment and information sessions in the restaurant’s back room. The objective is to show women leaders outside of the borough what the Bronx has to offer.

The restaurant offers quality eats to the neighborhood and curious tourists alike. Locals feel represented in the restaurant’s menu. It showcases familiar flavors in new ways. Sweet potato waffle sliders pay homage to the Harlem chicken and waffle classic. Cuban sandwiches are served on ciabatta bread for a fun twist. Pulled-pork wraps with maduros (pan-fried ripe plantains) showcase classic American sweet-savory barbecue with a Latin kick. Unexpected ingredient combinations are found throughout the menu. Garcia says she just wants to give customers what they like. “It makes me feel good.”

Inside Mott Haven Bar and Grill
Outside, the icon Mott Haven building
Photo 1: Inside Mott Haven Bar and Grill
Photo 2: Outside the icon Mott Haven building

Her menu is unapologetic of its Bronx-bred character, and reflects the restaurant’s success. Garcia also sets out to do the best for the community with a go-getter attitude. Every year Mott Haven Bar & Grill gives out 500 turkeys to families, who come into the restaurant’s back room to celebrate the holidays. She includes local developers as a part of her mission to feed and take care of her neighbors. “They know what kind of person I am and that what I am trying to do is for the better of the community.”

When a local organization pulled their donation for her annual food drive, she managed to organize the developers to reach her goal. “I decided to ask the landlords of the area to donate about a thousand dollars each,” she said. “We managed to raise about five to six thousand dollars.

Rosa Garcia isn’t the type to say ‘no’ to anything. She leads by example and is an active member of the South Bronx Alliance, the only woman mentor for the Bronx Boy Scouts troop, among other titles. “If you don’t speak up you can’t expect a change. If you want the neighborhood to look better, do something about it.”

Photo 1: Fresh seafood antipasto salad
Photo 2: Chicken Paillard with Rice
Photo 3: Fried Mac N Cheese

To see what's cooking at Mott Haven Bar & Grill follow them on Instagram and Facebook 

Article from Edible Bronx at http://ediblebronx.ediblecommunities.com/eat/mott-haven-pioneer
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