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Look for the Helpers: Chiquita’s Pizzeria

Since opening last fall, this Mexican-fusion restaurant in South Philly has built relationships, fed their community, and rose to every challenge the pandemic has thrown them.

During the COVID-19 crisis, we are inspired by the helpers—the essential workers keeping our city going, those going beyond themselves to give back, and ways people are brightening dark times. Coronavirus has brought so much hardship, but it has also brought out the best in so many in the City of Brotherly Love. Here is one of their stories.


“I never saw it as a dream for myself, because I never thought we could do it, but he inspired me that we could.” Christa Estrada and her husband, Adolfo Estrada, met while working in the restaurant industry. Years later they would be married with two daughters—Leilani, 6, and Scarlett, 4—and finally realizing their dream of opening a restaurant together.

 

In November 2019, Chiquita’s Pizzeria—named for their two little girls—opened in South Philly. By March 2020, an unprecedented global pandemic would force it to pivot and adapt. A restaurant’s first year of business is always a challenge—and there is the daunting statistic that more than half fail in their first year. The pandemic has put restaurants even more at risk.

 

Because they are so new, Chiquita’s found they were unable to benefit from COVID relief funds or loans. Working without a safety net, carrying on is the only option. “We were trying to just keep up with it and figure out what to do. With this, it’s just like another layer,” Christa relates. Luckily, delivery and pickup made up the bulk of their business, but they had to act quickly keep things safe and contactless.

 

Quarantine that closed schools also meant a big personnel shakeup. Having two small children suddenly out of school, and being high risk due to Type 1 Diabetes, mean that Christa must stay home for now. “Honestly we’re busier than we’ve ever been because people are ordering in, but it’s all on Adolfo’s shoulders. It was already a lot on him, but now it’s like another 300 pounds on his shoulders because I can’t be around.” Unlike so many businesses during the pandemic, they had to hire more staff to make up for Christa’s absence and keep up with the increase in delivery orders.

 

 

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Cinco de Mayo was an overwhelming day, and the already popular restaurant was even more in-demand with the addition of delivery margarita mix—add your own tequila. They introduce new flavors on their Instagram—from Blood Orange Hibiscus to Strawberry Watermelon—one batch at a time.

 

The margaritas accompany an eclectic menu that blends Christa’s and Adolfo’s separate birthplaces and cultures—just as you’ll find American and Mexican flags in the restaurant—including tacos, wings, pizza, hoagies, breakfast, burritos, and much more. “We wanted the best of both our worlds and combined the tastiest flavors from both,” they explain.

 

Most interesting is the fusion of influences that results in signature items like the fan-favorite Al Pastor Pizza topped with al pastor, pineapple, avocado, and cilantro—trust them, it’s amazing. Of course, they also have pizzas named for their little girls—and, yes, the girls like their respective dishes!

 

Photograph courtesy of Chiquita’s Pizzeria

 

Home with their mom, the girls miss the restaurant life right now, and their dad Adolfo during the day. After working long hours at other restaurants for years, one of the best parts of opening a family-owned business was that Adolfo got to see his kids much more, and they were able to put down roots in the community. Christa describes, “Scarlett liked to give out cans of soda. A lot of customers—we know them by name, and they know the girls. They were making friends with them!”

 

During the pandemic, relationship building has taken on different, more sobering forms. Chiquita’s has participated in the donation-driven Fuel the Fight initiative to provide free meals to healthcare workers at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Jefferson University Hospital, including gift cards with their deliveries.

 

 

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And when one of their employees had her own family’s business burned in the riots, they helped to raise money to repair the store, which now features a Walls for Justice mural on its boarded-up window on Spruce Street.

 

Despite hard times, the Estradas have not lost their sense of community and gratitude, and giving back is always their way. “We’re super appreciative of everyone trying us out, and for the support. We’re so happy to be living this dream that we’ve had.”

 

 

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Chiquita’s Pizzeria is located at 746 Snyder Avenue in South Philadelphia and is open seven days a week. They are open for pickup as well as delivery. When supporting all local businesses, it’s best to place your order directly with them over the phone or via their website rather than through a third-party delivery service.

 

Lead photograph by Laura Swartz.

Editor | Email tips to laura@familyfocus.org

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