Carmen Barañano Moneo was perhaps one of the most well-known figures residing in Little Spain in the 20th century. Carmen was the founder of Casa Moneo, one of the businesses that solidified the Spanish community on west 14th street. Although no longer a running business. Casa Moneo was a stable that influenced the Spanish people for generations with its world of gastronomy.
Carmen Barañano Moneo was born on December 23rd, 1880 in Sestao Viscaya, Spain. She was married to Santiago Moneo in 1897 in her hometown. They gave birth to three children, Santiago, Maria, and Jesus. In the year 1910, Jens passed away in Mexico City. Carmen later returned to Spain and ten years later, she departed from La Havre, a major port in France that had routes to the east coast of the US, and immigrated to New York City with the three children. She later opened up the famous Casa Moneo at 218 West 14th Street, an emporium of foods and cooking accessories from Spain.
Casa Moneo ran for more than 50 years. Throughout this time, Carmen, as well as the store enjoyed some prosperous time while there were occasional bumps on the road. Carmen’s daughter won an award from the Union Española for contribution to the Hispanic community. Carmen was also featured on many news articles and taught the mass how to make authentic Spanish cuisine (although many of the featured dishes were not of Basque origin, she must have been a very credible expert in the Spanish gastronomical world in New York). It was until the Spanish Civil War broke out did Carmen experience some real trouble.
In 1938 just a few days before Christmas, there was a picketing march right in front of Casa Moneo. The Spanish Anti-Fascist Committee initiated the parade because some of the merchandise at Casa Moneo were imported from the insurgent area pf Spain, making them believe that the Moneos are supporters of Franco. In fact, Carmen being a devoted Catholic gave more ‘evidence’ to the protesters. Windows were broken and people were beaten during the parade. The store front was even painted with the communist emblem. Carmen eventually took court actions to combat these pickets. Carmen said that the business was just starting to rise after they finally survived the Depression. Jesus Moneo, the youngest son, has estimated that the demonstrations have reduced their business by 50 percent.
The event however, did not damage the image of Carmen nor the store to a great extent. In fact, Carmen was featured again in a news article in the following year where she showcased products from not only Spain but also Latin America. Besides gastronomical products, Casa Moneo also sold clothing, music records, and perfume from Spain, accommodating the need of people from every age group. It seemed like Carmen was not affected by the accusation and focused on expanding her business. An article written by the famous food critic Craig Claiborne in 1961 praised highly of the store: “GASTRONOMICALLY, one of the nearest things to Spain in Manhattan is a small and utterly absorbing grocery store known as the Casa Moneo. Situated at 218 West Fourteenth Street, it could be mistaken for a bit of Barcelona or a segment of Seville.”
In 1969, Carmen Moneo, the founder of this wonder, died at the age of 89 from a heart attack. Her legacy continued running for another 20 years until it was finally closed due to financial difficulties. Before it was shut down, Casa Moneo continued to receive critical acclaims. It even became a field trip spot for students in Spanish classes that want a real ‘taste’ of Spain. Creating a space that cater the local Hispanic immigrants and their descendants, Carmen Moneo was an early inventor in the business that fostered a strong connection between the immigrants and provided them something closer to home.