Life Along the Streetcar with Tom Heath from The Heath Team Nova Home Loans

Monica and Carlotta: Female Trailblazers of Tucson's El Charro Restaurant - Interview with Ray Flores

On this week’s show, we’re going to revisit a 2021 conversation we had with Ray Flores of Flores Concepts. We’re going to discuss the impact and legacy of Monica Flynn and Carlotta Flores and learn how these two female entrepreneurs have spanned 100 years and created tremendous culinary success.

Today is March 26th, my name is Tom Heath and you’re listening to “Life Along the Streetcar”.

Each and every Sunday our focus is on Social, Cultural and Economic impacts in Tucson’s Urban Core and we shed light on hidden gems everyone should know about. From A Mountain to the U of A and all stops in between. You get the inside track- right here on 99.1 FM, streaming on we’re also available on your iPhone or Android using our very own Downtown Radio app. Reach us by email [email protected] — interact with us on Facebook at LifeAlongTheStreetcar and follow us on Twitter @StreetcarLife

Our intro music is by Ryanhood and we exit with music from Mosh Party, “Boss Baby.”

Transcript (Unedited)

Good morning. It’s a beautiful Sunday in the old pueblo and you’re listening to KT. DT. Tucson. Thank you for spending a part of your brunch hour with us on your downtown Tucson community sponsored rock and roll radio station.

On this week’s show, we’re going to revisit a 2021 conversation we had with Ray Flores of Flores Concepts. We’re going to discuss the impact and legacy of Monica Flynn and Carlotta Flores and learn how these two female entrepreneurs have spanned 100 years and created tremendous culinary success.

Today is March 26, 2023. My name is Tom Heath and you’re listening to life along the streetcar. Each and every Sunday, our focus is on social, cultural and economic impacts in Tucson’s urban core, and we shed light on hidden gems everyone should know about, from a mountain to University of Arizona and all stops in between. You get the inside track right here on 99.1 FM, streaming on, also available on your iPhone or Android. With our very own Downtown radio

app, you can interact with us on Facebook and Instagram. And for more information on our show, our book, past episodes, or simply to contact us, head over to And of course, you’re always invited to listen to our podcast on all kinds of platforms like Spotify, itunes, or simply asking your smart speaker to play Life Along the Streetcar podcast. Well, my voice is starting to come back. Last week was pretty rough. I appreciate you putting up with me and hoping to rest it up even a little bit more because this weekend coming up, starting on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of next week, the 31st of the second, we have the Tucson Folk Festival back in downtown for the 38th annual event. And no, I am not singing or performing, but I was asked again to MC, so I’ll be an MC for the stage, I think on Church Street this year and get to introduce all these fabulous acts that are happening on that stage in downtown Tucson. Takes place right there in the shadow of the Pima County

Courthouse in Hockey Plaza. They block off that area there. They’ve got multiple stages and celebrate all kinds of folk music. And if you’re wondering what folk music is because I think that’s sometimes hard to describe, but I can tell you that looking at the different bands, they’ve got what you might think of with bluegrass and blues. There’s country, some jazz, even some Celtic and zydeco, plus some Latin music as well, things that are quite a wide variety of sounds. At the Tucson Folk Festival, it’s free to the public and head out. I think they have like five or six stages and you can get all the information [email protected]. And of course, if you want to know a little bit more, we did have them on our show a few years ago, I think. So you can head over to and just type in the search bar there tucson Folk Festival. It should bring up all the times we’ve covered it, but this year, looking at it now, yeah, there’s six stages with 125 live performances. They’ve

got national, regional, local, all kinds of activities going on, including their annual songwriting competition and winners there. So looking forward to being the MC for another year, and hopefully my voice is recovered enough to make it happen. And as we are wrapping up March, we’ve been celebrating women who have made Tucson fabulous. We’ve talked about all kinds of strong women like Cele Peterson, Jessica Gonzalez, and today we’re going to revisit a conversation we had back in 2021. This is right before the Monica restaurant in downtown was due to open, and we talked with the owner there, Ray Flores, about the restaurant, but really wanted to delve into its history because it’s part of that El Charo family that started over 100 years ago with Monica Flynn and has been carried for the last 50 plus years with Carlota Flores. And just two powerful women spanning a century making things happen. And what spun off from this is just tremendous. So we had Rayon talk about all of their concepts

and kind of this history and the impact of Carlota and Monica.

But first of all, can you just tell us a little bit about Flores Concepts and kind of all the things you’ve got going on just briefly?

Sure. So Flora’s Concepts is really a management entity, the management entity that handles the business affairs of the units or the enterprises that we do, whether it be restaurants or catering companies or manufacturing concession work.

The brand I think people are most familiar with is going to be El Charo.

And we’ll talk a little bit about.

That in a moment. But in the last decade, you have just grown into so many different directions with some of these other concepts.

Part of that growth was obviously there’s organic growth, as we know in business, and then there’s strategic growth and then some of it was, in a way, we had to diversify the brands because we learned a costly lesson when I came into the family business right after college that we didn’t own the federal trademark for El Charo. And we were getting approached by opportunities like in airports or other where they wanted our intellectual property and our story, but we couldn’t in good faith license because we didn’t own the federal trademark El Charo. Despite being the oldest El Charo in the country, my mom’s great aunt, Arthea Monica, as we call her, was really kind of screwed around by a lot of people of her contemporary, which her lawyers, her advisors, or whatever, maybe lack thereof. She didn’t get great counsel. She made mistakes, as a lot of small business people do, especially small business women at the time. That was kind of an unheard of commodity to have a small business owned by

a woman. I don’t think they were just treated with a lot of respect and regard, and she wasn’t given good counsel. She never protected her intellectual property. And of course, that wasn’t the big thing in the it probably took flight more in the as trademark and became more of a legitimate way to protect your property. But she didn’t get her brand protected. And in the late 60s, rather, alvis made a movie called Chatural, and Chatural was his first legitimate non singing movie, the only one he didn’t sing any. And it was kind of blew up in a lot of places all of a sudden, right around that time. And then there was the 70s movie icon, Chatter, the singer songwriter, whatever she was. And all these El Charos opened up around the country. And in the mid seventy s, a guy in Michigan actually trademarked it. But unfortunately for everybody, including himself, the brand already existed in too many applications, and the path to trademark and protection was really washed away. And the trademark

office said, look, there’s not a lot of value to the trademark because it’s used so many places and it predates so many things it would be hard to protect. Well, that taught me a lot about trademarking. Ever since then, we’ve been working hard to protect our intellectual property, develop brands like services. When I develop it, I own the Mark, a federal trademark. For Carlos Kitchen, federal trademark. Charles Steak, federal trademark. C. Charo, federal trademark. And this may seem like well, it doesn’t really matter if you’re not expanding. But when you get a company like an MGM that comes and knocks on your door and says hey, we love what you do, we’d like to use your product or work with you but you don’t have a clear path on your intellectual property, obviously, it can close doors pretty quickly and that happens to a lot of small businesses. You look at what happened here with Chopped. Remember Chopped when it first opened? And then they had to change the name to Choice Greens because

they didn’t own a clear path on the federal trademark. So you can imagine that could have been suicide had they expanded all around the country or had more than a couple of stores like they did at the time. So something we learned and so, yeah, very familiar with El Charo, but Florida’s Concepts, the management entity, that’s the kind of work it does. It organizes and legitimizes a lot of our creative efforts.

And those creative efforts, like you said, they’re spreading. They’re not just in Tucson anymore. I mean, you’re in airports across the country. Did I hear you’re in the MGM Grand in Vegas?

So we were in the MGM for the last eight plus years. We just closed our MGM brand concept this past weekend. Not by our choice necessarily. Often this is usually what happens in licensing or other so we had a licensing relationship with you, with the MGM. We had a great run. It was a lot of fun to be part of. But we were back in an area in the MGM called the District. And the district is right. It butts up against the MGM Grand arena. Well, when they built T Mobile Arena all the big high line events that were typical to MGM Grand Arena moved over to T Mobile. So they had some issues with volumes back there. It was a really big restaurant and there was regime leadership changes and whatnot. And along the way, of course, then came COVID and they really kind of refined. Their Vegas is constantly reinventing itself. So I think they’re probably going to do something different. But we came up with Echo specifically for that and again, own the trademark. So we will have the trademark back and

we may bring back Etcho in Vegas in a different arena somewhere in that market.

Well, in here locally, I think some of the brands that might surprise people if they’re not paying attention like Charlo Vita, that is a completely different concept than not completely different, but it’s got a different sort of narration with a largely plant based menu. And Barrio Chara a collaboration with Barrio Bread which is just phenomenal and it just really shows the depth and breadth of all of the concepts that you’ve got going. Just in Tucson.

Yes. You look at our friend Sam Fox and Sam and I go way back and Fox Restaurant Group, if people don’t realize it, but there was a Fox Restaurant and it’s still on Broadway. And that was his dad, one of his dad’s original restaurants. So sometimes you apply a family name. We didn’t really want to put florists on restaurants necessarily. People knew us as Charo more than anything. So when we started looking at other restaurants one of the things that came up was Chatura could do almost anything.


My mom was known for making great Italian food amongst our networks and friends. And we would do it for a lot of caterings and we would do turkey dinners for our friends and we do them right now. We’ve got 100 turkey dinners for Thanksgiving because we’ve got great chefs and great we have a real appreciation for food. The brand is Chatural. And when we put C Chatter on, like yes, see, meaning yes, chatural can do anything that we put our minds to and our hearts to. And chatter of vita came about. I had battled cancer and I wanted to do a little bit of a healthier restaurant and work on plant based eating as a focus but also create something where protein eaters could still eat a clean protein with it. Mario Charo. Because we blended the culture of Don Gedra’s famous and iconic Mario Breakery with our Charo recipes. Chatural de Ray was something that was born from an opportunity next to Chatural Steak where there was a restaurant called the Del Rey in California that we would eat at when

we were kids. It was this amazing seafood restaurant where I first had lobster and oysters Rockefeller and where I really learned how to eat when I was a kid, when my uncle would take us there. He owned racing horses. And this is where all those guys would go to eat. And we brought back this kind of classic style of eating mixed in with Ella Charlotte. We do escargot with Carneseca on it. We do lobster but stuffed with a tamale. And we wanted to add our Charles ness to this Del Rey legendary restaurant that we knew of and that’s we try to do. We try to put a little bit of Tucson, a little bit of Chatural in everything we do. And if it’s it makes the chatter cut, it has a chatter name. In the in the case of the Monica, it’s going to be different because it’s not going to be a lot of Mexican food. But again, it has a heritage and lineage to the stuff that we grew up eating that has never made a menu but is always delicious and ready. Now, I think for prime time.

That’s Ray Flores. We’re talking to him in 2021 just before the opening of the restaurant to Monica because we wanted to talk about the namesake Monica Flynn. We’re going to get into her story here in a few minutes, just after the break. But I want to remind you that you are listening to Life Along the Streetcar in Downtown Radio 99.1 FM and [email protected].

Greetings and salutations, downtown Radio listeners, paleo Dave, your unfrozen Caveman DJ, here to spread the good word about the Scrambled Sunrise Rock Mix, happening every weekday morning from seven to 09:00 A.m. Right here on downtown radio from the earliest days of Psych punk and new wave to 80s college rock, 90s alternative, and the ongoing wave of 21st century indie rock. It’s all right here on the Scrambled Sunrise. So tune in via 99.1 FM if you’re in the greater downtown area or streaming worldwide via

And we’re back to finish up that interview we have with Ray Flores of Flores Concepts talking about that 100 plus year span that El Charo has had an impact in our community, how his mom, Carlotta Flores, and how their aunt before that t Monica Flynn has really built this legacy.

Well, let’s talk about the Monica, because that’s the newest creation that’s going into the City Park building downtown and that got some nice press the other day in the paper. But can you tell us a little bit about that concept? Because you’re going to have sort of a more rotating menu in there, aren’t you?


It’ll be a little bit more variety.

Well, I don’t know how long you’ve been tasting for a while, but there was a point back in the day where, for instance, Ringcon Market. I grew up going to Ringcon Market when it was really great and I remember eating, you can go up there and you could have this great mix of food that was available to grab and eat right there. And then you could order off of a grill menu that was really great. And we’re making it all fresh out of these ingredients. And over the years, it waned. And food costs and challenges to labor and things make it harder for some of those concepts to have stuck around. And people’s dining their likes and their nuances change. There was a day 30 years ago, 40 years ago, where cafeterias and buffets were amazing, and those are gone. But I still think there is room for a faster meal with really quality ingredients made that you don’t have to always order from a server or do you have to also build your own bowl or sandwich? Like if you’re a chef all of a sudden? I think

there’s an opportunity to put chef designed, really high quality ingredients, foods in front of people in a faster format with a lower price point in a downtown setting like that. Because we got 15,000 people work downtown on a given day in that area, if not more. And where do they go for a really good roasted chicken and mashed potato, but without having to sit down? Take that time when everyone’s in a hurry or they want to eat at their desk, or they want to take it for takeout. We wanted to deliver something like that, along with, of course, some really great prepared grill recipes and other things. So the idea to bring Monica Homestyle cooking into that format was where it started. And then we started thinking, well, this really needs to pay homage to Tucson’s amazing culinary legacy, which is, as much as we’re known for the Wildcats, we’re definitely known for our food, if not even more so now. So to bring other chefs involved was the concept where, like, well, God, it’d be really great

to bring back some recipes that are long forgotten. Maybe something from Donna Norton from Taffy Terracotta, maybe something from Yanos, or maybe something from Darryl from Lotus Garden that was closed, or people that had the pandemic either paid it off or something else caused them to not. Maybe they didn’t have a legacy plan. Like what my mom’s been blessed with having us be able to take over. So that’s kind of what the Monica is going to represent. I think that flexibility to change. We’ve got all these great chefs already in our team. I mean, I have some amazing chefs on our team right now that can knock out too much quality food. That’s why I’m probably gaining way too much, but just really cool stuff. I just had a dessert tasting with we just hired a guy named Chef Miguel, who was formerly at Cielos, and the guy’s just a rock star. He’s really an up and comer. We hired him, and then we hired Chef Danny who was he opened the JW. He ran la paloma. He’s got a huge food service background

and understands a lot of supply chain, which is another challenge in today’s restaurant business environment. We got a killer chef in there and he’s backed up by guys who are already on our team, like Gary or Gals, like my chef Alba, who I have, and Chef Miriam and of course, Carlotha, the granddam of them all, to just drive quality and innovation in the kitchen. But no matter what, the Monica really great homestyle cooking available all the time at a reasonable price point. That’s what we wanted to deliver something downtown that wasn’t too she, but felt like you’re eating somewhere really nice.


And let’s talk. I really want to delve into the namesake of that because I think Monica Flynn is a name in Tucson that has had so much her legacy is so impactful, and yet a lot of folks don’t fully understand her connection to Tucson and to El Charo. I know you guys talk about it quite a bit, but I think it’s also a reflection of what you said. Being a female entrepreneur in the 20s, it was tough. But can you tell us about your tia, Monica?

Well, if there was a debt, there’s this new word out there the same. They used the boss babe or boss woman or I won’t use the other word, but they say boss blank. And I think she was one of the pioneers of that movement. My mom’s been able to recently work alongside Chef Maria from Boca a little bit. And I think Maria has said it well. Carleta has opened the doors for people like Maria to come into. Well, Monica opened doors for a lot of people to come into and really also showed when those doors open, what you have to worry about. And I think where Monica was a pioneer in what she did, opening a restaurant, I think, unfortunately, her tail is also a pioneer of what to prevent and what not to let happen again. And urban renewal was one of them where city planners and aggressive business people that were somewhat unethical did things to her that shouldn’t be done anymore, should never be done again. And they took her building from her and paid her below market rates for what it was worth.

And when she got hit with capital gains, no one had calculated what that would mean. She was penniless after all these years of having this restaurant. She couldn’t afford to move it when they kicked her out. And they promised her things and things that she didn’t get properly documented like we talked about her trademarking woes with her name. But immediately after them claiming imminent domain and condemning her building that that they were supposed to blade for a big development in La Pacita, which has now been knocked down and rightfully replaced by an apartment named the Flynn. They said they were going to, hey, we’re out. We’re not going to put a restaurant in here if your money go away. This is going to be another type of development we’re making. We’re building the TCC. Well, then they come back and they actually didn’t knock the building down. They actually rented it to a friend of one of the developers who had a Greek restaurant in there. And then, because he was failing, they

marketed the Greek restaurant as blah, blah, blah, whatever it was, at the El Charo Building. So then she had to sue. And Hal Cole, who was in a legendary old attorney in town, had to go and demand the city and these developers stop using the Elcharo name to identify that building after all that they like was like insult to injury to call the building the Elcharo building to market their their friends Greek restaurant. And, you know, I mean, those kind of stories will always motivate someone like me, because I’ve always said, like, now you got to deal with me. And I’m not the kind of person that you’re going to get one over on on that because I’ve done my homework and I enlist the better councils that we have available to us in this market because business can be very doggy dog, as we know. And I think, unfortunately, Monica’s tale of what happened to her wasn’t just that she came, this young woman who came here with her father and opened up this restaurant while he was out building the

cathedral and doing all this stuff in his career. But it was also how her legacy almost ended abruptly. And then the second phase, which is there’s these two women, right, Monica and Carlota, both each equally, have had a 50 year run because my mom’s now approaching her 50th year and running this business. Who would have thunk it, right? That the math worked out that way. But what’s interesting is when my mom came in, my mom actually was in California. Monica had actually been moved to California by the family to go into hospice. And because my mom was a younger one in the family of the older women that were involved, she was to move here. She was to come here rather, to help settle the affairs and close the business down. It was fledgling. They couldn’t figure out what to do with it. It was in between the two locations. My mom came here with my dad, left me at home and my brother. We were just one and two years old, respectfully. And she came in for a week and they were going to shut the

business down. She came in, she walked in the building. She’s like, I can’t do it. I can’t end this. I grew up in this thing. I think we can make this thing work. And she decided to go back to the family and negotiate terms where she paid off the family, although she was one third of the inheritors, she decided she was going to buy from the other two and then she moved back here. My brother and I very young. My sister hadn’t been born, and she took over a bankrupt business in real shambles right. And turned it into what Elcharo is known for today.


So it really is two women that just, I don’t know, the kind of cojones they have that they exist in too many people. I can remember many times where my mom’s line of credit was pulled and she put everything on her Visa or Mastercard or took a second out on their home to keep the business going. Tucson was a different market the last 50 years, up until maybe 510 years ago. I mean, our summers were so brutal here. Nobody could make it during the summers and every restaurant had to go. And they used to call credit card their summer. Everybody that knows those woes can remember where you couldn’t do any business in the summer. Everyone left. There was no business here. And now that’s gotten better as we’ve gotten more density and people stick around more.

It’s a great testament to, I think, the legacy of those in Tucson that started with 50 years from 1922 with Monica Flynn, picked up by your mom, Carlota Flores, and brought us to the next 50 years. And I can only imagine what you and your family are going to do over the next 50 years with this concept.

Well, it’s huge to fill. I don’t know if I can fill them like those two women. And I definitely need a lot more support than they got. But there is a fire in us that belongs to Tucson. We belong to Tucson. I remember when I came into the restaurant, I was going to take over or start working on the takeover plan. And I talked to somebody, they’re like, oh, move your company to Phoenix. You’ll never work there. And I just refused to do it. I was like, no, I’m going to stay here. That’s what Monica Carlosa did, and I’m going to stay here and we’re going to build it from here. I appreciate people like you who do the same, your businesses and what you guys do, because all this stuff takes time. People think people do this to get rich. You guys do this kind of stuff because you want to tell the story, because that’s what makes us special and that’s what people come to move here and why they want to do business with us.

Well, I’m looking forward to the 100th year anniversary at El Charo and all the festivities are going to surround that. Ray, I appreciate your time and I can’t wait to get into the Monica and continue supporting these wonderful restaurants you and your team have developed around Tucson. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you for your time.

Thank you, my friend. Appreciate you.

All right, have a great day.

That was Ray Flores of Flores Concepts just before the opening in 2021 of the Monica namesake of Monica Flynn, who started the El Chiro Cafe in 1922, and along with her and and Carlos de Flores, have had a hundred years worth of success here in Tucson. My name is Tom Heath, and you’re listening to lifelong streetcar and downtown radio, 99.1 FM and available for streaming on

You’re listening to Ktdt, Tucson, Arizona, 99.1 FM, downtown radio. I’m Brother Mark, host of a show called Radio Club Crawl that airs every Tuesday at 03:00 P.m.. We try to focus on most of the bands that are coming through Tucson, and we give you a tasty taste of their music. You want to check out what’s happening around Tucson? Check out Radio Club crawl. Tuesdays, 03:00 P.m. Right here on Ktdt. Tucson, Arizona. 99.1 FM. Downtown radio.

Thank you very much. Enjoy your evening. Bye bye.

Well, thanks again to Ray Flores and always appreciate people that take time to come on the show. And if there’s topics we should be covering, hit us up on Facebook and Instagram. Let us know all about them. Well, he mentioned in his interview The Boss Babe, so we’re going to leave you with music today from a 2022 EP from Mosh Party and it’s called Boss Babe. My name is Tom Heath. Hope you have a great week and tune in next Sunday for more life on the streetcar.