Joe Torres, Founder of The Bronx’s Iconic ‘Joe’s Place’, Dies

The following is a series written by Diego Robayo of the Historic District Council which profiles Bronx community leaders who have contributed to our history and will be published here on Welcome2TheBronx.

Last week on April 12th, COVID-19, aka the coronavirus, took away yet another Bronx resident, this time, the beloved and renowned Joe Torres who founded Joe’s Place.

In 1953, when he was 9 years old,  Puerto Rican migrant Joe Torres settled in Parkchester in The Bronx, with his family. From a young age he decided to become a cook, and eventually became a  renowned chef of Puerto Rican cuisine.

The Historic Districts Council had the pleasure to talk to Joe last year, and to know Joe’s vision on how cooking could unite communities of different identities. He said “My objective with Joe’s Place is to have people of different cultures enjoying and tasting Puerto Rican cuisine”. 

The late Joe Torres at his restaurant, Joe’s Place/ ©Diego Robayo

The New York Times wrote this week:

Salsa musicians had a post-gig ritual in the Bronx. When the music stopped, off they’d go to Joe’s Place, a Puerto Rican restaurant, where the owner and chef José Torres would lay out a free spread. Perhaps it was their enthusiasm for his home-style food that prompted one musician not long ago to announce to a concert audience at Lehman College in the Bronx, “We’re off to Joe’s!”

“It was for the musicians, but whoever wanted to come by, they certainly did,” said Eddie Palmieri, the Latin jazz pianist, who performed at that concert. “Everything in the buffet was on him. Talk about jam-packed! But that was him. He did things like that.”

Sadly, Joe recently passed away, but not without leaving a legacy of unity and joy that attracted famous Nuyoricans such as Marc Anthony and Tito Nieves, as well as day to day people. 

When the Historic Districts Council talked to Joe, he expressed the burden of increasing rent prices, but he managed to keep his business afloat, motivated by the pleasure of cooking and seeing people savoring Puerto Rican food. 

We want to say thank Joe and all Puerto Rican and Latino residents who use their craft to contribute to the cultural heritage of this beautiful city, and The Bronx. 

About the author:

Diego Robayo is a historic preservation advocate and works for the Historic Districts Council as the Spanish Language Fellow. He is a strong believer that the history and identity of all cultural groups should be acknowledged in order to advance social development. He has documented life in The Bronx and other outer boroughs through photographs and interviews. He received a scholarship to start a graduate program at Columbia University, which gave him a broad perspective on how to make cultural research and preservation.

This post comes from the Historic Districts Council. Founded in 1970 as a coalition of community groups from the city’s designated historic districts, HDC has grown to become one of the foremost citywide voices for historic preservation. Serving a network of over 500 neighborhood-based community groups in all five boroughs, HDC strives to protect, preserve and enhance New York City’s historic buildings and neighborhoods through ongoing advocacy, community development, and education programs.

Now in its ninth year, Six to Celebrate is New York’s only citywide list of preservation priorities. The purpose of the program is to provide strategic resources to neighborhood groups at a critical moment to reach their preservation goals. The six selected groups receive HDC’s hands-on help on all aspects of their efforts over the course of the year and continued support in the years to come. Learn more about this year’s groups, the Six to Celebrate app, and related events here >>

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