As bars and restaurants continue to try to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the 4.3-mile strip in Aurora known as the Havana Street Business Improvement District is coming back strong. The stretch, which runs along Havana Street from East Sixth Avenue to East Dartmouth Avenue, is a long-time hub for minority-owned food businesses.
The recovery is evidenced by the rebound of sales in the business district (also known as On Havana Street), which are up 15 percent over the same time in 2020, according to Chance Horiuchi, the district’s executive director. Even in 2020, the district accumulated $20.8 million in sales tax dollars,accounting for 9.7 percent of Aurora’s overall sales tax collections, and the numbers are on the rise. “These small businesses, entrepreneurs, and minority-owned businesses really, really do contribute to our community and they are the heart of Havana Street and Aurora,” Horiuchi says.
Havana Street is already home to about 20 international markets and more than 100 restaurants—including both big-name American chains like Chipotle and Chick-fil-A and an impressive roster of Asian-owned businesses—but the area’s rebound encompasses a welcome influx of new hotspots.
Tous les Jours, a French-Asian bakery with more than 1,650 locations worldwide, is expected to open its third Colorado location in the district sometime before Thanksgiving. The bakery, which already has storefronts in Thornton and Westminster, offers pastries, cakes, and breads that are popular across Asia and aren’t as sweet as those found at typical American bakeries. “When they purchase these items, it just ignites a lot of memories of their childhoods, which is why we have a lot of repeat customers,” says Gabriel C. Lee, managing director of Tous Les Jours’ Colorado locations.
At the bakery, look for treats incorporating distinct flavors like taro, red bean, and sesame, and don’t miss the fluffy milk cream bread, which is one of its most popular orders, Lee says. Other highlights include tapioca doughnuts; a honey-lavender macchiato; and a selection of “beauty ade”—Korean carbonated sodas in peach, grape, and pineapple flavors. The bakery even has its own spin on the beloved seasonal American treat: pumpkin spice cream donuts.
Another sweets destination: Mochinut, a global chain serving mochi-doughnut hybrids and Korean rice dogs, which also opened in late October on Havana Street. And in early 2022, bb.q Chicken, a South Korean chain that often stars in the country’s TV dramas, will bring its crispy fried chicken, sweet-and-spicy “Gangnam-style wings,” and kimchi fried rice to the area’s Village on the Park shopping center.
Some other delicious additions to Havana Street in 2020 and 2021 include Coffee Story, a daytime cafe offering Korean beverages, including shaved ice; Seoul ManDoo, a must-stop for steamed, fried, and boiled Korean mandu (giant dumplings); Sharetea, a boba tea chain from Taiwan; Old Town Hot Pot, an all-you-can-eat hot pot restaurant in the spot previously occupied by Mr Panda Super Buffet; and Chutney Restaurant, an Indian and Nepalese eatery.
“It’s always been a destination for entrepreneurs and immigrant and refugee businesses to be able to thrive,” says Horiuchi, who noted that 95 percent of retail space in the district is currently occupied.
Since Havana Street has a large number of Korean businesses in particular—including an outpost of the popular supermarket chain H-Mart—the Aurora Sister Cities International’s Korea Committee launched a virtual branding campaign to market the area as Korea Town to help minority small business owners in Aurora (rather than designating the specific geographic location as “Korea Town,” since the street is home to cuisines from across the world).
For example, Pupusas La Salvadoreña is just up the street from El Salvador’s Colorado consulate on Havana Street. And one of the former owners of now-closed Las Hadas Mexican Restaurant on Aurora’s East Hampden Avenue is back with his own new spot on Havana Street called Piramides, which features a menu of familiar dishes from Las Hadas such as green chile, street tacos, and pozole.
Piramides owner Victor Urresti says a lot of his former customers of 25 years at Las Hadas have followed him to Havana Street.
“[Through] 25 years, I know so many people, so many kids that have gotten married and had kids,” Urresti says. “For three or four generations, I see [them], and many people follow me.”