The Laporte General Store and Deli celebrates Costa Rican cuisine as a truly family-owned and operated business. Family members include (top, from left) daughter Aaliyah and mom, Veronica Montero; sister Dehilin from Costa Rica; dad, Nelson Montero, and daughter Francel, who makes fresh pizza crust (above).
Photos and story by Karen Black
Take a road trip to Laporte, PA, the county seat of Sullivan County, and your taste buds will thank you. Located across the street from the Courthouse is a small General Store and Deli. In fact, it’s the only store in town.
Stepping inside, you’ll see camping and fishing gear and basic grocery items like milk, snacks and ice cream. What one would expect from a small country town store. But there is a tasty surprise waiting for you in the back of the General Store.
Behind the small deli counter, the Montero family is busy at work cooking and serving Costa Rican cuisine along with the basic food menu. “Basic Essentials with a Twist” is how they label it.
Veronica and Nelson Montero purchased the General Store in the fall of 2015 when they heard it was about to close. The couple decided to take the chance and make it their family business. They knew the grocery store had been up for sale for several years, but when the decision was made to close it, they just had to do something.
“Loosing the last store in town just seemed so devastating for such a small community,” says Veronica. They soon left their jobs as maintenance staff at the courthouse to focus completely on learning the grocery and deli business.
Sullivan County residents are used to the influx from the Philadelphia or New York areas, but all the way from Central America? There a unique story of friendships and coincidences behind the scenes. Nelson grew up listening to America’s Top 40 Hits in San Carlos, Costa Rica. Coming from a poor family of farmers and laborers, he dreamed of one day living in America. When he of a chance to find work in the US, he took it.
Nelson first worked in Newark, NJ, but then a friend told him about construction work in Eagles Mere, PA – a place far away from the grime and noise of the city. While he was working construction in Eagles Mere, he met his wife, Veronica, who was working in a real estate office. Veronica had grown up just north of the PA border in Elmira Heights, NY.
For Nelson, the rural area was the biggest change, having come from a land of jungles and volcanoes to live in the forests and quiet towns of the Endless Mountains.
“It’s different, but nice,” he says, with a shy smile. Nelson is still working to perfect his English, but it is his cultural heritage that is an integral factor in making the General Store such a hit.
At the deli counter, you can find the essential fare of cheese steaks, salads, burgers, fries and pizza with handmade dough. But then the weekly specials catch your eye; a mix of American and Costa Rican foods like Shredded seasoned beef tacos, Pork Chincharoni with Pico de Gallo (homemade salsa), Arroz con pollo (rice with Chicken), Casado, the traditional dish Gallo Pinto (rice with black beans), and more.
Costa Rican food has a mild flavor dependent on fresh fruits and vegetables for its taste. You can spice it up with hot sauce if that is your liking, The Montero family follows another Costa Rican tradition as well – the meat is always fresh, never frozen. Meals are cooked from scratch using spices, herbs and sauces like cilantro, red peppers and Sausa la Lizano to give it that Costa Rican home cooked zest.
In the produce section, you’ll find avocado, mango, papaya and plantain. They’ve even added a Costa Rican Breakfast omelet. It’s not stuffed but made like an egg tortilla with the veggies and meats cooked right into the egg. Their menu continues to grow and change as they discover new ways to bring Costa Rican cuisine to Sullivan County.
As they grow to understand the complexities of grocery and food business, they dream of expanding their offerings. Nelson and Veronica look towards the future when the deli and eatery will be larger than the grocery section. Plans for outdoor deck seating and a rotisserie are in the works.
Veronica says they knew the first winter would be tough, the county population drops drastically during the winter and shoppers are few. But it was worth it. Working at the store afforded her to be able to be with her daughter, Aaliyah. Not having to send the child to daycare makes Veronica’s heart happy. And she is glad the community is responding favorably to their food.
That first winter, the family pulled together to make it through with many helping hands when they were really needed. Friends like Kassidy, Megan, Kimberly and Brad Ruhl were there, to name a few, assisting Nelson, Veronica and their seven children.
Frank, Nelson’s oldest son, visits from time to time from Costa Rica where he works in the grocery business. And there’s Tony, who’s in the Navy, stationed in Virginia. Family is important to the Montero family and, when Tony gets time off, you’ll find him lending a hand. Another son, Yasler, also works at the store.
Then there are daughters Francel, Caitlin, Amanda and young Aaliyah, who also helps out at the cash register. And when family visits from Costa Rica, they can be found in the store, too. Spending time with family is most important, the Monteros explain, but to be able to share their family’s cooking with the community is a dream come true.
The Laporte General Store is open 7 days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner at 524 Main Street Laporte, PA. Call 570-946-7141 for more info or check them out on Facebook @LaporteGeneralStore.