Adela Ferguson, 81; She fed stomachs and hearts

Adela Ferguson getting a heaping pot of rice ready at her restaurant’s first location in 1980, when it was known as Caprice. Photos by Marlis Momber

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Loisaida residents turned out in numbers last Friday at Ortiz Funeral Home, at 22 First Ave., to pay their respects to restaurateur Adela Ferguson, whose Casa Adela on Avenue C for years has been a focal point of the neighborhood.

Ferguson died Mon., Jan. 15, at age 81.

She served up authentic Puerto Rican food at her restaurant since 1976, starting at a small location, Caprice, at 56 Avenue C, just south of the eponymous eatery’s current spot, at 66 Avenue C, at E. Fifth St.

Posting on social media, new City Councilmember Carlina Rivera wrote of Ferguson, “She was a Puerto Rican patriot and an icon of the LES. My heart goes out to her family. Her smile, island pride and magic touch in the kitchen will be missed by so many.”

Congressmember Nydia Velazquez said, in a statement, “To pay a visit to Casa Adela was like stepping into the warmth of a Puerto Rican neighbor’s home. Adela herself welcomed all New Yorkers to delicious Puerto Rican food surrounded by the Island’s spirit of hospitality and generosity. Outside the restaurant’s walls, Adela was a center of Latino life on the Lower East Side and a tireless community advocate.

“A ‘Wise Latina,’ Adela was an entrepreneur who had been serving authentic Puerto Rican food to locals and tourists alike for over four decades. My thoughts and prayers are with her children, grandchildren and loved ones. While I am deeply saddened to hear of her passing, I take a small measure of comfort knowing that I join so many others in grief.”

Lolita Lebron, fourth from right, in front of Casa Adela in 1989, just before it opened. Restaurateur Adela Ferguson is in the center of the second row. Lebron, a Puerto Rican nationalist, was convicted of attempted murder after leading an attack on the House of Representatives in 1954 that left five congressmembers wounded. After Lebron served 25 years in prison, President Jimmy Carter freed her, granting her clemency in 1979.

Longtime East Village activist Ayo Harrington recalled of Ferguson, “She started out cooking at a kind of home-in-the-wall at that location about 1976. She was closed down for a few years in the mid-’80s while the building went through the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s Urban Homestead Program. During that time, the building was gutted and rebuilt by homesteaders from the neighborhood. They moved into the renovated building as an H.D.F.C., low-equity co-op, about 1988.

“Adele was promised she could return once the building was renovated, and did so. Her space was built out larger than what she’d had — and her restaurant, with her and her recipes as the stars, have been a neighborhood favorite ever since.”

Her son, Luis, runs the restaurant on a daily basis. Her daughter, Abby, lives in Miami but works there several times during the year. Harrington was not sure if Ferguson was a co-op owner of her space versus a permanent renter.

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