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Jocelyn Banales with a salad on the left; enchiladas with mole and avocado on the right.

Food as a family legacy

For Necio Latin Eatery's Jocelyn Bañales, a family-led restaurant is the recipe for success – and amazing mole.

August 30, 2018

By Cory Phare

It’s happy hour at the newly opened Necio Latin Eatery when the mountainous ahumado tinga nachos arrive. The smoked, shredded chicken has bite from the adobo’s chipotle chiles, tempered by Oaxacan cheese, flavorful pico de gallo and poblano creme sauce.

Tortilla chips, from Sunnyside neighbor Pochitos, give a light crunch – and make a compelling case to forbid lesser establishments from calling cardboard slathered in hand-pumped neon dreck “nachos.”

Gas stations and ballparks nationwide, you’re on notice.

"I grew up in the kitchen with my family and fell in love with the flavors, spices and recipes.” 

What makes food good? For Jocelyn Bañales and Necio, it’s a family affair.

The 2018 hospitality, tourism and events graduate of Metropolitan State University of Denver manages all aspects of the back of the house for her restaurant. Nestled in Denver’s Sunnyside neighborhood, Necio is five blocks from her childhood home – fitting, as her culinary curiosities began early.

“Mom and Dad met each other working in a restaurant, so in a way, food has always brought our family together,” she says. “They would always cook traditional meals for us from scratch. I grew up in the kitchen with my family and fell in love with the flavors, spices and recipes.”

Necio continues this shared familial experience: Her father, Jose Angel Sr., brings 28 years of hospitality experience to the role of executive chef, combining flavors from his hometown of Durango, Mexico, with the traditional Guatemalan dishes of Bañales’ mother, Angela. Brother and executive chef Jose Angel Jr. keeps a cool head leading the kitchen as the orders rush in from the bustling dining room and terraced patio, where sister Lisa seats and helps serve diners. And elder brother Marvin Alexander has jumped into the accounting and administrative side of the business.

The family’s annual trips to Mexico to visit Bañales’ grandmother further cemented a love of food.

“We could always count on Mama Luz’s signature mole with rice and beans upon our arrival,” Bañales says. “The recipes she’s passed down, along with those Mom and Dad have created and shared, are so important to us; they help us serve and feed our community.

“Food has become our family legacy.”

The Bañales family in the Necio kitchen. Left to right: Jocelyn
The Bañales family in the Necio kitchen. Left to right: Jocelyn's sister Lisa, mother Angela, brother Jose Angel Jr. and father Jose Angel Sr. Photos by Alyson McClaran

It’s a good sign when restaurant staffers give recommendations with unflinching confidence.

That was the case for the main entree: chicken mole enchiladas, which the server endorses without hesitation. Queso fresco-dusted black beans and fluffy Spanish rice adorned with avocado flank rolled tortillas as vehicles for succulent marinated meat.

Make no mistake about it, though – the star of this show is the mole chile meco. Bañales’ recipe from her grandmother calls for an extended soak of the chipotle peppers before they’re fried with onions and garlic for that special touch.

The result? A crema fresca-drizzled, smoky-sweet delight that will insist you clean your plate.

“It’s going to be a lot of long days and hard work – but I got this.”

The way that plate arrives matters too.

“It’s about the taste and flavor, about catching our customers’ eyes with the presentation,” Bañales says. “We want to attract folks from the area and get them to spread the word. It’s good for the neighborhood, and for business.”

She credits a large part of her comprehensive approach to a Concept Development for Restaurants class she took at MSU Denver.

“Everybody has a dream,” says chef Jackson Lamb, professor of restaurant management. “What we do is take people who have such a dream and help them put it onto paper to see how it works.”

This includes doing research for a detailed demographic and competitive analysis of the neighborhood to evaluate patronage and sustainability. The class dives deep into further conceptual outlines, including such items as countertops, tablecloths, silverware, china and interior design.

Lamb also notes the solid approach of launching Necio with the already-successful side-by-side meal-planning storefront for My Vision Nutrition, co-founded by Bañales’ brother.

It’s more than good; it’s smart. And for Bañales, it’s a real-world success story set to take flight like the quetzal – the brightly colored national bird of Guatemala – depicted on Necio signage, also a product of her concept class.

“I learned a lot from that class and from MSU Denver,” she says. “I’m combining what I studied with what I know in the kitchen.

“It’s going to be a lot of long days and hard work – but I got this.”

“We want to attract folks from the area and get them to spread the word... It’s good for the neighborhood, and for business.”

Any second thoughts about being too full to finish with an order of churros vanishes when they arrive. Dusted with cinnamon and topped with marzipan-infused vanilla ice cream, the tasty torpedoes reward with gooey centers of cajeta that make the raspberry and chocolate dipping sauces seem almost superfluous. Almost.

They’re a specialty sent out by Bañales’ brother, who, like his sister, stops by to ensure the food is good.

And yes – yes, it is.

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