For more than 25 years, in all kinds of weather, Taurino Brito walked the streets of Pilsen selling churros.
Brimming with guava, cream cheese, chocolate, vanilla, strawberry or dulce de leche filling, they’re infused with a cinnamon-dusted taste of Mexico.
Mr. Brito, 90, a longtime Pilsen resident, died Wednesday in Mexico City, where he lived when Chicago’s weather grew cold. He suffered a head injury in a fall at his home, relatives said.
He’d been a courtly, kind presence in the lives of many Pilsen customers as they grew from childhood to adulthood. Some saw him as a surrogate abuelito, or grandpa.
“He was such a gentleman. Old school. He would open the door for everybody,” said Carol Molina, who helps operate Don Churro, the family-owned bakery at 1626 S. Blue Island where Mr. Brito bought the pastries he sold on the streets.
If he saw someone performing an act of kindness — such as returning a lost phone or wallet — he might bestow complimentary churros to recognize the good deed, according to his granddaughter Aida Flores. “He was just always a caretaker,” she said.
“He was always a welcome sight,” said Eleazar Delgado, founder of Cafe Jumping Bean. Mr. Brito sold churros inside and outside the coffee shop at 1439 W. 18th St.
All day long, Delgado said, customers at the cafe would ask him, “Hey, did the churro man come in yet?”
“At the cafe, when you would have it with a hot chocolate, you can’t beat it,” he said. “It’s a comfort food.”
When Don Churro began making the treats nearly 40 years ago, some Chicagoans weren’t familiar with them. “In the beginning they were known as ‘cinnamon sticks,’” according to Molina.
But she said to Mexicans and Mexican Americans, “It’s a piece of home.”
It wasn’t uncommon for Mr. Brito to sell 500 churros on a weekend. “He was out all day, rain or shine,” Molina said.
“He loved making sure his churros were warm,” his granddaughter said. He’d insulate the churros in a plastic-covered box inside his cart.
And he used plastic to shield his tejana — cowboy hat — from the rain. “My grandpa took care of his hat,” she said.
Mr. Brito would start his day at Cafe Jumping Bean. And he’d sell near schools at dismissal time and outside churches on Sundays.
Frequently, he’d end his day selling inside and outside of El Milagro store and taqueria at 1927 S. Blue Island, where “Everyone would buy churros,” said staffer Andres Ruiz.
“Grandpa worked every day except Thursday,” said his granddaughter, a former candidate for alderman of the 25th Ward. “Thursday was his rest day because it’s in the middle of the week.”
“He didn’t have to sell churros,” said Delgado. “He told me, ‘I do this to keep busy.’ ”
Mr. Brito was from the town of Ixtlahuacatengo in the state of Guerrero. There he operated a small ranch and farm where he grew corn and raised cows and chickens. He donated part of the land for a medical clinic, his granddaughter said.
He was a widower when he met Maria, a widow with two children. They married and had seven more.
“We could catch them holding hands when they would go to the coffee shop,” their granddaughter said. “He knew when she had to do her eyedrops, and he’d take care of them, for the pressure.”
Each day after picking up his churros from the bakery, Molina said, “He would turn around and say God bless you — ‘Dios te bendiga’ — and ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’”
Aida Flores said his grandchildren have studied at colleges and universities, including DePaul, DeVry, Dominican, Georgetown, Harvard and UIC.
“His pride and joy,” Aida Flores said, “was ‘I’m going to bring my family to the coffee shop and I don’t want anybody to pay.’”
In addition to his wife, he is survived by daughters Chavela, Dalida, Enedelia, Francisca, Raquel, Yola and Yose; sons Armando and Omero; 26 grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren. Services were held in Mexico City. His granddaughter said he will be remembered at a mass scheduled at 12:45 p.m. Sunday [Sept. 29] at St. Procopius Church in Pilsen.
Contributing: Carlos Ballesteros
Carlos Ballesteros is a corps members of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.