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Discover Dominican fruit shakes and pressed subs in Charlotte

By Tom Hanchett
Tom Hanchett
Tom Hanchett is staff historian at Levine Museum of the New South.

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  • Rivas Coffee Shop

    Where: 127 E. Sugar Creek Road

    Hours: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday;

    9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday.

    Contact: 704-819-4373

A cool fruit milkshake. Sound good on these hot days?

Rivas Coffee Shop brings the Dominican tradition of fruit milkshakes, pressed sandwiches and more to Charlotte.

Meringue dance music bounces in the air. Barbers and customers dart in from D’Stylo, the Dominican barbershop next door. Cashiers in red smocks, on break from Compare Foods, trade greetings.

Freddy Rivas behind the counter grew up in the Dominican Republic, in the countryside west of Santiago. Like thousands of others, he sought a better life in New York. He worked for relatives who owned restaurants in Long Island and Brooklyn, then at Compare Foods, a fast-growing Dominican-run grocery chain that was expanding from the New York area into Charlotte.

“When I first visited Charlotte,” he says, it was a breath of fresh air. “I’m a country boy. Here everybody’s nice, compared to New York.”

Soon he was opening his own sandwich shop next to Compare on North Tryon. It’s a low white building that began life as a branch bank.

Today the old bank vault holds cold cuts – ham, pastrami, salami. Rivas layers your choice of meat with cheese, lettuce, tomato and flavored mayonnaise on a sub roll. Or get a “chimi,” a hand-patted burger topped with cabbage and other fixings.

Either way, Rivas will finish the sandwich in a special press that warms and squeezes everything, mingling the flavors. There’s a similarity to the pressed sandwiches of Cuba, the Caribbean neighbor of the Dominican Republic.

Milkshakes are made to order in a whirring blender with fruit, milk and ice. Fruit choices include strawberry, papaya or parcha, the Dominican term for passion fruit. There’s also an orange juice shake whose Dominican name, morir sonando, means “to die dreaming.”

Tom Hanchett is staff historian at Levine Museum of the New South: Don’t miss the Food From Home section of the museum’s “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers” exhibit.
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