“Wait, there’s a truck outside,” Marta Zelaya said.
Marta asked her husband to turn the car around. She was certain the truck was parked at the spot she had seen in her dream.
Marta Zelaya is the owner of Catrachos Restaurant, the first Honduran restaurant in Denton. Catrachos opened on Sept. 29 of this year and has drawn a following.
“Even I didn’t know how many of us there were,” Marta said of the Honduran community in Denton. Though she had befriended much of Denton’s significant population of “catrachos,” a colloquial term used to identify Honduran nationals, the opening of the restaurant has introduced her to more people.
Marta and her family have lived in Denton for 16 years. After living in Austin, TX for her first month in the United States, she decided to move to Denton, where she has planted roots. Before opening her restaurant, Marta was a homemaker and stay-at-home mom. She sold tamales and traditional plates from her home kitchen on the weekends and special holidays, and her business grew mostly by word-of-mouth.
“They would ask me ‘Why don’t you open a restaurant?’” Marta said of her original customers, who were eager for more easily accessible Honduran food. “Because before, they would have to drive all the way to Dallas, or Fort Worth or Irving.”
One Sunday morning, Marta and her family were driving to church when they passed the building that was formerly the Chapin Café, a restaurant that once served traditional Guatemalan food. Having driven by it so often, she wondered if maybe the space was available to start a different kind of traditional restaurant.
As they passed, her son happened to ask her about her search for a locale, and that is when she would remember the dream she had the night before. In the dream, she said, she had been in her own restaurant talking with someone on the phone. Suddenly, the restaurant grew busier and she had to hang up. Marta said it was a simple dream that she had immediately forgotten, until their weekly routine brought her past the place she would imagine herself in.
Having called the number on the outside, but receiving no answer, Marta knew she had to act when she saw a truck parked out front. They turned the car around and she went up to the door.
“I saw that the door was halfway open, so I knocked and went in,” Marta said.
Marta said she spoke face-to-face with the owner. She learned that he was not looking to rent at the time, but was curious as to why she inquired. Upon hearing that she wanted to open a restaurant, he warned her about the potential for stress.
“He told me, ‘You need to have dedication. It’s not like selling from home,’” Marta said. “‘Oh, I know how it is,’ I told him.”
Marta was no stranger to entrepreneurship. When she lived in Honduras, she leveraged her love for cooking, and she and her younger brother, Oselin Zelaya, who is a co-owner of Catrachos, set up a food stand inside a local factory. There, they fed plenty of hungry factory employees for nearly seven years.
Fortunately, Marta said, the owner did decide to rent to them, admiring their faith, drive and passion.
Now, Marta and her family are feeding the hungry people of Denton, and their most popular dishes are also their most traditional. She said people flock to Catrachos for the classic pollo con tajadas: chicken, fried unripened banana and a side of chimol, which is a Honduran salsa similar to pico de gallo, but made with green bell peppers instead of jalapeño. She mentioned baleada as one of her personal favorites, which features a flour tortilla stuffed with egg, refried beans and crumbled cheese.
“And pastelitos,” Oselin said, describing the Honduran version of an empanada, another favorite from their menu.
Marta is still working on decorating the restaurant’s interior. She laughed at the empty spots on the restaurant walls. “For now, we keep it quite simple,” she said, gesturing to the lone Honduran flag. She said she hopes to bring in more cultural elements to decorate the space, and finish dressing the chairs in bright blue covers that match the flag.
Oselin and Marta are glad to serve the Honduran population of Denton, giving them a little taste of home and of their community, but they are also grateful that they have customers from all over.
“We get customers from Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador and even Americans who are curious about the food,” Marta said. “Most everyone likes it.”
One customer, who stood outside the car repair shop next door, said he had never tried Honduran food before eating at Catrachos.
“I had the pupusas, and they were pretty good,” Oselin said.
Marta said that though she was given hints about the restaurant-to-be through her dreams, the Zelaya family relied more on their faith.
“I never imagined I would have such a large space,” Marta said, reflecting on what she had prayed for. “I would ask God for a space, something like one of the little shops you see in the corners of gas stations, just to be able to sell [my food].”
In the future, Marta would like to expand within Denton or possibly to nearby cities like Sanger and Lewisville to give more culinary options to the area’s growing population.
Catrachos is located at 212 Fort Worth Dr. in Denton and can be found on Facebook as @catrachos1nidos.
Featured Image: Catrachos restaurant owner Marta Zelaya and her brother Oselin Zelaya pose for a portrait in front of a Honduran flag. Image by Theophilus Bowie