José Torres, 73, Restaurateur Beloved of Salsa Stars, Dies
His Joe’s Place was a must for a stop-off after a night of music-making. Mr. Torres died of Covid-19.
By David Gonzalez
April 22, 2020
José Torres at his restaurant Joe’s Place, a favorite of salsa musicians. “Everything in the buffet was on him,” the pianist Eddie Palmieri said. “Talk about jam-packed!” Joe Conzo Jr.
This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
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.”
Mr. Torres died on April 12 at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. He was 73. The cause was Covid-19, his sister Aida Torres said.
Mr. Torres opened Joe’s Place, an unassuming establishment on Westchester Avenue under the elevated tracks of the No. 6 subway line near the Parkchester neighborhood, in 1998. He turned it into a must-visit destination for music stars, a source of a free meal or a loan for out-of-work musicians, a favorite spot for family get-togethers, and even a place to mourn the loss of other musicians who were waked at one of the many nearby funeral homes.
Like many other restaurants, its walls hold pictures of local kids made good. One shows Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Mr. Torres was born on Sept. 21, 1946, in Puerto Rico and moved to the Bronx when he was 10. He was a mature child, Ms. Torres said, who watched his mother closely in the kitchen as she prepared traditional dishes like bacalao guisado and pernil. He left high school in his junior year to work as a soda jerk at a midtown Manhattan hotel.
An employee there befriended him, she said. “He took him from the counter to the kitchen and taught him. From there, he started cooking, from grill man, line cook until he became a chef.”
In addition to Ms. Torres, he is survived by two other siblings, three adult children and his fiancée, Janet Sanchez.
Mr. Torres didn’t just feed musicians at his restaurant. He was their friend. For years, Mr. Palmieri would stop in every Wednesday to conduct business or catch up with musician friends like the guitarist Nelson Gonzalez or the archivist and producer Rene Lopez.
“He wanted to put an Eddie Palmieri room upstairs, like a lounge,” the pianist recalled with a gravelly laugh. “Man, he was a unique individual who was in love with what he did. When he passed away, he broke a lot of hearts.”
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