Who Was Monica?
In simplest of terms, Monica Flin was the Grande Dame of women restaurateurs in Tucson from the 1920’s to the 1970’s. Monica was the daughter of Jules and Carlota Brunet Flin, both early settlers of Tucson who hailed from France. She grew up speaking French, English, and later Spanish. Jules Flin was a stonemason who came to Tucson to help build the original San Agustin Catholic Cathedral in the mid 1800’s. Jules built a home for his family on Court Avenue which is now the site of El Charro Café downtown. Monica was the eldest of 8 children and named after Saint Monica who was the mother of Saint Augustine. She married and lived in Mexico for a time, but after her second husband died in 1922, she returned to Tucson and opened a small, one-room restaurant on 4th avenue named El Charro Café after the cowboys of Mexico. Monica relied on credit from Chinese grocers and served meals for around 15 cent each. Her early menus read, “No service for less than 10 cents.”
Monica Flin built a very successful restaurant that moved to different locations over the years. For a time, it was in the Temple of Music and Art, then on West Broadway in a building owned by Monica’s sister. In the mid 1950’s, Monica was cooking for children in her family when she accidentally dropped a burro in a pan of oil. Rather than cussing a common Spanish cuss word that began with “C”, Monica yelled out “chimichanga” and the rest is history as to the famous fried concoction that is on menus all over the world today. Later, in 1968, Monica moved El Charro to the old family home on Court Street, where it remains today. Monica’s great niece, Carlotta Flores took over the operation of El Charro Café in 1972 when Monica’s health began to fail. It is now run by her great niece Chef Carlotta Flores and family and is said to be the “oldest restaurant in America owned by the same family”.
With the opening of The Monica and The Flin apartments nearby, the legacy of Monica Flin, the grande dame of Tucson restaurants comes full circle 100 years from the year she first opened shop and declared that everything be made with love as the first ingredient!