Of Spanish wine and Dominican rum
Take a look at the photo of the man behind the counter on this page. His name is Nemesio Ordonez. But no one calls him that. To everyone he is Titi, an entrepreneur who, since 1982, has owned and operated a series of businesses, a meat market, produce store and a few liquor stores, including Dyckman Liquors and Fiesta Liquors on Nagle Avenue near W. 207th Street for the last five years or so.
But looking at the man in the photo with that jolly smile, stocky build and red shirt standing underneath a ceiling full of holiday decorations, you could just as well call him Santa, someone who is always ready to help out a good cause.
Ordonez, born and raised in Northern Spain, is currently making arrangements to send a container of supplies to the Dominican Republic after the holidays. He is also one of the participating businesses in the Espiritu de Progreso Latino campaign by Chivas Regal, which is donating a portion of all local sales to help local nonprofits (visit www.EspirituDeProgresoLatino.com to learn more). Asked about the motivation for his good works, Ordonez, who is also a member of the local Lion’s Club, smiles that smile and says it’s just what he does.
A bit of an innovator, when he first opened his market uptown he designed it European style, making sure the fresh produce was pushed to the front of the store while the non-perishables were further back.
Customers, he said, responded to the colorful display.
He was also a pioneer in promoting Spanish wines in a Dominican neighborhood back in the days when conventional wisdom said locals would sooner gargle a rioja than sip it.
Now his bustling store is stocked high with cases of wine, some of which he is able to offer three for $9.99 because he does such a large volume. Collectively, his enterprises have allowed him to help out with countless local causes and to send his three children to Cornell University, American University and West Chester University. That’s a measure of a man’s wealth that you won’t hear extolled in too many pop songs or street corner brag-a-thons.
“People just started buying my wines,” he says, smiling that Santa’s smile of his.
Fiesta Liquors is also one of the first stores to carry a new spirit this holiday season, an original rum launched by local distribution company Más Spirits. The brand name is Hispaniola, but has no relation to the former restaurant of the same name. The flavor is Mamajuana, which has a direct relation to the existing Mamajuana Café: the owner of the brand, Erick Caceres, helped launch the café and was a co-owner until a couple of years ago.
The new Hispaniola Mamajuana rum has started appearing at local bars and retailers (you can just make out a bottle on Ordonez’ counter at the far right side of the photo) and makes a good gift for the party boy or girl who wants to connect with the past.
Mamajuana is based on the elixir created by the native inhabitants of the Dominican Republic, the Tainos, who brewed the beverage with herbs, roots and spices, resulting in an earthy flavor and reputed medicinal qualities. (That plus the rum helps it earn a reputation as an aphrodisiac.) Caceres worked with a Dominican distillery to perfect the flavor, got FDA approval and began marketing it in New York and Miami within the last few weeks. It will expand to Massachusetts, Connecticut and Philadelphia.
Mamajuana is, straight up, a man’s drink. But, Caceres says, women have found the mama-cute mixed drinks – mamaguava, mamamojito, mamangotini – to their liking.
PJs Wines, he said, now sells about 50 cases a week.
Early next year, Carceres tackles the non-alcoholic crowd, rolling out Mamajuana herbal teas. And thinking big, as if there is any other way to think about what’s happening uptown these days, he is angling to launch a gourmet Mamajuana rum pound cake sometime in 2010.
“Mamajuana comes with a history,” Caceres explains. “It’s got its thing. People will try it.”
Ordonez probably said the same thing 27 years ago when he began hawking Spanish wines on Dyckman Street.
The Manhattan Times is the bilingual newspaper of Washington Heights and Inwood.