On 10 August 1956, Juan Frias Payán borrowed the equivalent of about US$22 from a friend to open a sandwich shop at Calle 30 de Marzo. Half of the money went towards the first payment of the storefront and the other half was spent on stocking his new small business. More than half a century later, Barra Payán is a Santo Domingo mainstay.
Open 24 hours, its large menu of addictive sandwiches and sweet tropical juices and shakes have attracted famous musicians, major league baseball players, politicians, late night food seekers and ordinary Dominicans for over 50 years.
“We’ve had Presidents to people from all social classes. [Barra Payán] is special, just as there is a politician or professional, sitting right next to them is a shoeshine boy…with no judgment between them,” says Payán, who is now 85.
Despite his business’s enduring success, Payán has never opened another location. He believes that opening more locations negatively affects the personal service Barra Payán has always given its clients. In any case, after more than 50 years in business, people know where to find him.
“People come here from Ensanche Ozama, they come from Herrera, they come from Gazcue and from Naco, so what’s the point?” asks Payán.
When clients do arrive, they can eat their order at the bar, take the food to go, or even park their car alongside the shop and have their order served right to the window. Waiters at Barra Payán are trained to use their memory, as orders are not written down, they’re simply remembered and then shouted through to the kitchen. No need to worry though, there is a method to the madness. All you need to fret about is what to choose on the menu. To help you decide, Payán highlights the shop’s two most popular orders, the derretido de queso (grilled cheese) and the completo (ham, cheese, chicken or pork, lettuce and tomato). This can be washed down with Barra Payán’s famous batida de zapote (sapote milkshake).
“I love the fact that I can come here at any hour.” says long time client Freddie Peralta. “These sandwiches have a special taste. My favorite is the Jamón Danés.”
For the first 30 years, Payan personally helped prepare the sandwiches that have made his establishment famous. Since then, he has been content to simply watch as the fruits of a business he started from scratch continue to flourish. He can usually be found in his small office above the kitchen (watching the security camera, of course) or sitting in the corner by the takeout entrance. Nowadays, he sees the grandchildren of his first clients on the stools where they once sat.
“We’re an institution now,” says Payán. “If you haven’t been by Barra Payán, you haven’t been to the capital.”
Open 24 hours. Calle 30 de Marzo #140 (almost corner 27 de Febrero), 809.689.6654.