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Where do you go to connect with friends and family?

Sometimes a restaurant isn’t just a place where people go to be fed; it’s an emotional and spiritual hub where people connect and find community. Sarapes, a Mexican restaurant in Enfield, Conn., is one of those places. Do you have a spot in your community where you go to hang out? Is there anywhere outside your home where you feel so comfortable, where you feel like family? When Ivy Berubes, 22, orders a Shirley Temple at the Sarapes Mexican Restaurant bar, they make it for her even though it’s not on the menu. The menu also doesn’t list “The Tommy Bowl” — a deconstructed burrito — but Tommy Agramonte, 20, gets to order it; after all, it is named after him. Sade Guess, 21, swears by the birria tacos, another off-menu item. Located in Enfield, a quiet Connecticut suburb near the border of Massachusetts, Sarapes is owned and operated by the Chavez Mellado family, who immigrated from Mexico in the 1980s. “It’s one of the reasons why we’ve been able to maintain ourselves in this country,” said Adrian Martinez Chavez, the photographer for this story, whose grandparents Eduardo Chavez Solano and Cutberta Mellado de Chavez started the restaurant. His grandfather passed away a few years ago; Adrian’s grandmother and his aunt María Del Carmen Chavez run the place now, and his cousins Xochitl and Zuyuani Llanas, 22 and 20, are both managers. What keeps these 20-somethings coming back to Sarapes is not just the secret(ish) menu items or the occasional impromptu conga line that snakes around the booths. The space is a physical reminder of their kinship. When they come home to Sarapes, they can return to where they started. The article features many quotes from customers and staff that accompany the images. Here are a few of them:

“Sarapes is our comfortable spot.”
— Sade Guess, who started working at Sarapes after she moved to Enfield in 2015 and was swiftly pulled into the crew’s orbit.

“We could have met at a roller skating rink; we could have been at the mall — we could have met anywhere.” But Sarapes is “where all of these relationships flourish from.”
— Xochitl Llanas, a manager at the restaurant

“When you combine that atmosphere that the restaurant brings, and then you combine how we all interact with each other, it’s hard not to go there.”
— Tommy Agramonte, a regular customer, who is at high risk for severe Covid-19 and spent much of the pandemic isolated

“Food brings people together. I think that’s the source of life.”
— Marco Martinez, 21, who is part of the third generation of the restaurant family

My students, read the entire article and look at all of the photographs. Then tell me: What’s your favorite local hangout? What’s so special about it? Why do you feel comfortable there? Why do you feel safe in there? What is your reaction to the article? What aspects of the dining experience at Sarapes are most appealing to you? Which images or quotes stood out most? Would you ever want to dine at Sarapes? Adrian Martinez Chavez, the photographer whose grandparents started the restaurant, said, “Knowing that my family has provided food for the community for so long and people depend on it and love it, it is so special to me.” How do local restaurants, or food in general, bring your community together? If you were asked by The Times to write an article about your favorite local hangout, what would be your headline? What photographs would you include? Whom would you interview?

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