Being passed over for a job can lead a man to make drastic decisions.
For Martin Olsen, the result was Taza Churros, a bathroom-sized Latin donuts shop he owns with his younger brother Miguel Llinas in the Port Richmond section of Staten Island. A low-income housing counselor by day, Olsen spends his spare time manning a bricks-and-mortar churros shop he claims is the only one in the five boroughs. (Olsen may be on to something. A quick search revealed a few street vendors and dessert items on restaurant menus, but no standing churros-only spots.)
Olsen started dreaming of the decadent dulce-de-leche-filled Argentinean variety of his childhood on a dejected drive back from an interview for a plum non-profit job in Manhattan. The gig went to someone “in house.”
“It just came to my head in a quarter second,” Olsen explains. “I was driving down Port Richmond Avenue and started writing a business plan.”
What was the spark? “It was very caveman-like. It was like: They are yummy, so why not?”
Sweet childhood memories come easy. Recreating that snap and moist center of the long, narrow rippled donuts was not. “Everything that we thought was going to be easy became difficult. I was working out of memory from Argentina.” (His family split their time between Staten Island and Buenos Aires until he was in high school.)
The dough was a science experiment. The brothers tried restaurant flour, but the churros “stuck together.” So they set up a turkey fryer in Miguel’s backyard and began testing. Pizza flour was a little too tough. Pastry flour was “straight garbage.”
“Then we went with cake flour and that seemed to do the trick. It was fluffier and gave us that nice center.”
They opened in February, but the churros dried out in the warmer if made too far in advance. By the end of the first week, Olsen has determined the churros can sit no more than “24 minutes” before the warmer wins.
But it’s the fillings that may set Taza’s churros apart from the sugar- or cinnamon-dusted Spanish and Mexican variety (they have those too) most common in New York. The regulars include dulce de leche, Mexican dulce de leche (made with goat’s milk), and Belgium chocolate.
“We have tried some stinkers, like a mango jalapeno. All we got was a pepper flavor. The only [spice] that works is the habanero. It gives you a quick jolt, and then it goes away. One that was really popular that we are going to make again is apple pie filling, made in-house.”
Most importantly, Olsen has found his future: “I know how to fill out HUD reports and make churros,” he says wryly. “And that’s about it.”
Taza Churros, 131 Bennett Street, Port Richmond, Staten Island, 347-404-5340
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 20, 2009