Pasada and Pasadita: All in the Familia?

Reader Brian G. writes:

"I could be wrong, but I've heard that De Pasada and La Pasadita are owned by the same people. Not that this should change anything in the burrito bracket per se, but if you can confirm it, it might give you a useful baseline from which to evaluate the two."

It's an interesting theory, and one that would seem to have some merits on its surface. Pasada and Pasadita are right next to one another, and they share a reputation for sourcing comparatively high-quality meat.

More intriguing, perhaps, is the similarity in their names: pasadita is the diminutive of pasada. What does de pasada mean, by the way? It's not an easy phrase for a gringo like me to translate, but the most likely candidates seem to be "of the past" or "in passing" (as in "he mentioned to me in passing that he was looking for a new job"). It also seems to have a somewhat idiomatic, perhaps even existential meeting: "es agua pasada", for example, is the Spanish equivalent of "water under the bridge". In this context, I read de pasada as basically meaning "the little things of the past" or "from the tradition", with pasadita meaning pretty much the same thing ("the little tradition").

But in fact, there is even more of a potential smoking gun. Both La Pasadita's website (which contains some fascinating diatribes against yuppified Mexican food) and De Pasada's website say that they are owned by a family named Espinoza. Have we proven the case beyond any shadow of a doubt?

I don't think so. For one thing, the restaurants opened in the wrong order. If there were a restaurant called De Pasada, it would be fairly logical for the owners to name the spin-off La Pasadita ("the little Pasada"), particularly if it were more of a downscale, take-out joint. However, La Pasadita opened up in 1976, while De Pasada opened in 1981. There are all sorts of Mexican restaurants that are named after derivatives of "tradition" (this one, for instance), and it's possible that the similar names are just a coincidence.

Similarly, it's possible that the common surnames are just a coincidence. There is generally a great deal of commonality in Mexican last names; 8.5% of Mexicans are named Martínez, for example, while 8.1% are named Rodríguez. Espinoza isn't "Smith" or "Martínez" or "Andersen", but it isn't "Funkhouser" either: there are 191 entries for "Espinoza" in the Chicago white pages, and another 99 for "Espinosa".

Moreover, if the restaurants are owned by the same family, why is there no mention of such on their respective webpages? La Pasadita's website lists the locations of all three La Pasaditas as well as four other "business affiliates", but none of them are De Pasada. De Pasada's website says that the family Espinoza came to Chicago in 1981, at which point La Pasadita was already open. In addition, the respective Espinoza families appear to have hailed from different regions of Mexico. The De Pasada Espinozas come from Nuevo Laredo, a border town near (you guessed it) Laredo, Texas, while the Pasadita Espinozas are from San Luis Potosi in central Mexico.

It's tempting to speculate that there is still some relation. Perhaps the Espinozas are part of the same extended family, for instance. I guess you can conceive of the San Luis Potosi Espinozas calling their cousins in Nuevo Laredo and saying "Hey hombre, business is good here, bro! Why don't you come and open another restaurant right next door to me?". But really this doesn't make any sense. In fact, when De Pasada opened in 1981, the La Pasadita Espinozas were busy with their own plans: that was exactly when they expanded into their second location at 1140 N. Ashland. Can you imagine any worse business plan than trying to open two locations right down the block from one another at the same time (or trying to compete with a restaurant that your cousin was opening)? Not even Starbucks would try that.

It wouldn't completely shock me if there were some relationship between the two restaurants. But the Occam's Razor position is that there isn't.


Anonymous said...

La Pasadita was opened by David Espinoza, De Pasada was opened by Silvestre Espinoza, David's younger brother. Much more to the story.

Anonymous said...

Scandalous! It seems that Nate left out the possibility that family members may have been intentionally competing with one another, though, of course, that may not necessarily be the case...

paul worsterberg of the deplacements said...

this has telenovela written all over it.