Volume 19 • Issue 6 | June 23-29, 2006

Mexican mainstay celebrates 50 years on Pearl

By Anindita Dasgupta

Carlos Majorman did not bring a family with him when he came to the U.S. more than 50 years ago. Instead, he established what is likely the city’s oldest Mexican restaurant, Pancho Magico, where patrons still talk about the “kind and handsome” restaurateur.

Older customers reminisce about Majorman, who trusted his customers enough that he never accepted checks. He knew they would pay at the register when they had the money. Restaurant manager Jose Avila explained that Majorman didn’t come to the U.S. with any family, nor did he leave behind any photos of his life. Instead, he left Pancho Magico and its patrons. “His customers were his family,” said Avila.

Majorman’s restaurant, Pancho Magico, changed from its original name Don Pancho in 1996, celebrated its 50th anniversary on June 28 with a private party at their 213 Pearl St. residence.

The restaurant’s history dates back to 1956, when, according to directory listings, the German-Mexican Majorman opened Don Pancho, which he named after the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. Majorman, who owned the restaurant for at least 40 years, was one of many restaurateurs opening Spanish and Mexican eateries. Two of the oldest of these restaurants, El Charro, and El Faro, were established in the West Village in the 1920s. However, these restaurants, in addition to many of their surrounding competitors, changed their cuisine and décor to Spanish due to the large influx of refugees in the West Village during the Spanish Civil War. Despite the changing environment, through his own ties and love for Mexico, Majorman kept Don Pancho a Mexican restaurant through its cuisine, décor, chef and staff.

Since 1956, the restaurant has changed hands and names a few times. Today the restaurant is owned and managed by the Avila brothers, Jose and Arcadio — the chefs hired by Majorman 30 years ago. The Avila family will also be celebrating the 10-year anniversary of their management of the restaurant. The Avila family has kept most of the restaurant’s original ambiance, except for adding “Magico” into their restaurant’s name to recognize the magic of the restaurant’s survival. The restaurant still features and uses its original small booths, and ceiling and light fixtures. While there have been a few alterations to the menu, such as a small Spanish cuisine section, and the obvious change in prices since 1956, the Mexican cuisine has survived. With the exceptions of some recent construction, even the exterior of the restaurant on Pearl St. has remained unchanged, said Jose. Now, loyal patrons travel as far from New Jersey to enjoy their favorite Mexican food.

Patrons enjoy traditional Mexican favorites such as hot tamales, and jarritos (Mexican soda) as well as Pancho Magico specialties like enchiladas suizas and the Mexplosion burrito, in the small restaurant decorated with red and white table cloths and Mexican prints of Frida Kahlo on the walls.

Among the original cramped wooden booths and small wooden tables, the Avila brothers create their own community of patrons, just as Majorman did before them. Arcadio, who has been with the restaurant for more than 30 years, continues Majorman’s legacy through their mutual friends and cuisine, and Jose graciously welcomes anyone who enters the restaurant with his warm smile, remembering their favorite drinks and dishes and eager to please. He talks of their many Indian customers and their penchants for vegetables. “They give me new ideas [for dishes],” he said with a chuckle.


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