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A bit of Santa Rosa de Copán on New Bedford’s Acushnet Avenue

Nataly, Raymond and Jeffrey Pelletier in front of Sara’s Bakery on Acushnet Avenue, New Bedford last week.

Here’s a story right out of a Nicholas Sparks novel.

New Bedford native Jeffrey Pelletier was a volunteer worker in Honduras years ago.

Unfortunately, Jeff’s desire to help ran a bit of ahead of his proficiency speaking Spanish.

Therefore, within an hour of starting work at the relief organization, a supervisor paired him with a colleague who not only knew Spanish well, but also the country.

That person was Nataly, a native of Honduras. Who would one day become Nataly Pelletier of New Bedford after the couple married – and then ran the gauntlet of hurdles the country seems to place in front of people emigrating to the country. Even with a ring on their finger and a bona fide romance story on their resume!

The couple persevered after their serendipitous meeting and managed to survive dealing with the bureaucratic nightmare that defines immigration to the United States these days.  

The happy ending now finds Jeffrey Pelletier the President of Junior Achievement Southern Massachusetts and Nataly Pelletier a Spanish language teacher at Friends Academy in Dartmouth.

But that’s only the beginning of this story. Because once in New Bedford, Jeff and Nataly began embarking on another sort of journey. A journey to jointly discover the city Jeff grew up in – from a different perspective.

For both, especially Nataly, that meant finding the places in the City of New Bedford that have been at the forefront of welcoming new residents to the city from Central American countries like Honduras or Guatemala.

Of course, that meant exploring Acushnet Avenue – the North End’s International Marketplace. And it’s there that Nataly found a bit of her home – Santa Rosa de Copán – in New Bedford.

Nataly explains that adapting to any new culture can be a challenge – especially when it comes to diet. The basic ingredients that define a family meal are suddenly all different when you move to another country.

That’s why in places that are home to significant numbers of any one nationality, you’ll typically find eateries and markets opening up that import or prepare foods that are familiar. The Italians did it in New York; certainly the Portuguese in New Bedford; and now, newer residents of Latin and Central American ancestry here, too.

Which is why on Acushnet Avenue, Jeff and Nataly first discovered Sara’s Bakery. It’s a terrific spot on the corner of Acushnet Avenue and Tallman Street that makes Central American bread and pastries. It also carries meats, cheeses and canned and dry goods imported from points south.

A specialty of Sara’s is the Central American version of sweet bread. It’s a bit sweeter than the Portuguese version and a bit more dense in texture. Perfect for dipping into your morning coffee. A run to Sara’s for conchas is a frequent excursion for the Pelletiers.

Nataly picking up some conchas – sweet bread – at Sara’s Bakery.

So, too, is visiting the markets on Acushnet Avenue that have opened for business that carry all those hard to find ingredients. Union Fruit Market at 1437 Acushnet Avenue and Americas Market at 1502 Acushnet Avenue boast well-stocked shelves of South and Central American foods, including meats.

When family comes to visit from Honduras, they are especially helpful in creating the menus that will greet the guests to New Bedford.

“My family brings great coffee with them when they visit,” Nataly says, “And I bring mom to the markets.”

For those even more challenged by Spanish than Jeff was back when he met Nataly in Honduras, it’s okay to shop at Sara’s and just point at what looks good in the bakery case. Which is plenty.

Or, Google some recipes and products before you hit the The Ave’s International Marketplace and go on a voyage of your own discovery.

When we visited Sara’s Bakery last week, Nataly provided the translation that facilitated the eatery learning about and joining the Love The Ave & North End Restaurant Week happening from Sat. Sept. 15 through Fri. Sept. 21 – a perfect time to visit, if you’ve never been before.

Note that I wrote Nataly, because although improved, she tells me Jeff’s Spanish still has room for improvement.

However, she also said she sometimes prepares Central American-flavored foods for her Spanish students at Friends Academy to immerse them into the culture as well as the language.

So, I suspect Jeff is just playing for time and taking advantage of what Nataly’s creating in the kitchen from the Acushnet Avenue shopping.

Smart man.

Learn more about Junior Achievement of Southern Massachusetts here.

Learn more about Friends Academy here.

Learn more about the Love The Ave & North End Restaurant Week here.

Steven Froias