Six-year-old Angelica Espinoza was eyeing a chocolate doughnut in a case full of freshly baked Mexican pastries Sunday afternoon at El Burrito Mercado. Monica Espinoza indulged her daughter's sweet tooth, grabbing a large cinnamon roll for herself as well.
The mother from east St. Paul said she didn't know that the popular business in St. Paul's District del Sol was robbed by two masked gunmen just two days earlier. In that incident, customers and staff were ordered to get on the ground and surrender their wallets and cellphones.
"It's scary," she said. "You don't think those things can happen in this place … it's terrible."
St. Paul police spokesman Steve Linders said no one was hurt during the robbery around 8:30 p.m. Friday, but he said it was "certainly a scary situation for everyone involved."
"The employees of the restaurant were put at risk, so were several customers," Linders said. "It was a bold and brazen crime that's not something we see very often."
Linders said he's not aware of any similar cases in the past five years at El Burrito Mercado, 175 Cesar Chavez St., which has been an institution for the Latino community the past 40 years. It was established in 1979 and is still owned and operated by the Silva family.
The business, based on an authentic Mexican marketplace, features a grocery store, deli, a dine-in or carryout cafeteria, bakery, bar and restaurant, so it has multiple cash registers. "Whether or not that's why it was targeted, we don't know at this point," Linders said. He couldn't say if money was taken from all the registers.
Investigators continue to collect evidence and speak with potential witnesses, but as of Sunday evening, no one had been arrested. Linders said police aren't ready to release information on any potential suspects.
"We're working hard to find the people responsible," he said.
On Sunday it appeared to be business as usual for El Burrito Mercado. Over the lunch hour, a line of customers ordered at the cafeteria while friends and family gathered in the adjacent bar to watch a televised fútbol game and enjoy cervezas.
Even though no signs of the traumatic event were visible Sunday, a manager said people were still on edge as they waited for answers.Those working Sunday greeted patrons with smiles while employees who were working Friday remained at home with family. Saturday's opening was delayed to give employees a chance to regroup and police time to continue their investigation.
On Friday, owners took to Facebook to inform customers about the crime, calling it traumatizing.
"We are heartbroken for our staff and customers that were victimized by these cowards. We hope justice is served."
The 20,000-square-foot market began as an 800-square-foot convenience store. Tomas and Maria Silva migrated from Aguascalientes, Mexico, to St. Paul in the late 1900s. Today, the Silvas' daughters, Milissa and Suzanne, and granddaughter Analita own and operate the family business.
El Burrito Mercado changed locations over the years, but it's remained on Cesar Chavez Street since 1995. A second location in Minneapolis is off Chicago Avenue.
Staff writer Ryan Faircloth contributed to this report. Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751