Smothered: The Saga of the Chubby's Empire

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As for the charge of Chubbys Bubbachinos profiting off the Chubby's name that his grandmother established, Leonard doesn't see it: "I'm not saying I'm the 'Original Chubby's Mexican Food.' I'm saying I'm 'Chubbys Bubbachinos Grilled Burritos.' Where do you get the similarity?"

Lunch hour, Friday, 1231 West 38th Avenue. The hinges on Chubby's Burger Drive-In's door are getting their exercise. A sea of day laborers, construction workers, giggling high-school students and businessmen await a Chubby's lunch — served between two paper plates stapled together — that will stick to their ribs for the rest of the afternoon.

Blocks away, Stella Cordova is at home, handling a greeting card that she uses to smack the top of one of her cat's heads when it gets too close. Alert, smiling and dressed in her best, ornate rings encircling her historic fingers, she ponders what one should order if one only had a single opportunity to eat at her Chubby's. "Chile fries, smothered Mexican hamburger" is her succinct answer.

Danny, in his bathrobe and groggy, stirs his coffee, bored. He was at Chubby's until three this morning. But when the subject of the future of the original Chubby's comes up, Danny's eyes light up with excitement. "We're trying to make our place bigger," he says. "We already have the plans drawn up. The attorney says that as soon as this mess is cleared up, we can start franchising out of 38th and Lipan. We'll start fresh and expand the empire from there and spread Chubby's the way it should spread. The way it should have been from the beginning, before everyone just plundered."

Danny's enthusiasm increases as he rattles off his dreams of employee uniforms, a dining area, an outdoor patio. But Stella seems disinterested. She nods her head at Danny but offers no further comment. Maybe she knows that any courtroom drama will no doubt be protracted and ugly. Maybe she knows there's no way to change what has happened in the past. Maybe she doesn't want to change it. So she grins and bears it.

She listens to Danny — and to Julian, who comes over almost every day now to update her on the legal proceedings. And she tries to say no to her great-grandchildren, who hit her up for cash for DVDs (not going so well, she reports).

But what she most enjoys is working at Chubby's.

So tonight Stella Cordova will head over to 38th and Lipan around 6 p.m. as she always does, and she'll sit behind the counter, right next to the register; she'll stuff $100 bills into her lockbox, and she'll watch her Chubby's feed a city.

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Adam Cayton-Holland