Little Plates, Big Heart
Find out how MAF’s microloans can turn little plates into big business
In the middle of La Cocina’s large kitchen in the Mission District, a small woman moved with the graceful precision of a swan.
Gliding between steaming trays, boiling pots, and simmering pans like a gentle breeze, she smelled, tasted, and seasoned everything in a dreamlike blur. Around her were three other women, all moving with the thoughtful synchronicity of a well trained dance crew. Each woman was conducting a symphony of tasks over an orchestra of pots and pans.
Ximena and I felt like interlopers when we entered into the kitchen and asked for Guadalupe. But without missing a beat, the stout woman sprinkled a little salt into a pan and walked over to us beaming with pride.
“Ah”, she said “we missed you last week.”
Ximena and I apologized for not being able to visit her at the El Pipila tent at Off The Grid, San Francisco’s hub for the best food the city has to offer.
“It’s OK,” she said, waving her hand gently.
“I was so busy, I could barely talk to anyone!” she said with a giggle. For Guadalupe, life was not always as good as it was today.
When Guadalupe was a child in Acambaro, a small city in Mexico, she had a large loving family.
Her father, like many others, had to leave them and travel to the United States as an undocumented worker to support his family. He would send whatever pay he could to her mother so that she could take care of the children. Because of his status, he couldn’t visit with them, and had to stay separated from them for a better part of Guadalupe’s childhood. In 1986, her father received amnesty as an undocumented person, and in 2004, he finally became a citizen. Unfortunately, Guadalupe and her siblings were unable to get citizenship themselves, as they were now older than 18.
Like her father,Guadalupe ended up leaving her two daughters behind for the opportunities that the U.S. provided. As she recounts having to say goodbye to her daughters, tears begin to well up in her eyes. She remembers the moment she had to leave her little girls, how she knew she would never see them grow up, go to school, or attend their first dance.
She quickly composes herself, then turns around and points to one of the women cooking behind her.
“That’s one of my daughters”, she says proudly. The woman gives us the same beaming smile as Guadalupe. Her daughter is not just another chef, but a partner in the business.
The other women in the kitchen with Guadalupe was her mother, who had come to see the business her daughter had built. Guadalupe’s daughter was there as well, working alongside her mother. Three generations of women, together, building a business based upon cultural traditions and hometown flavors.
Guadalupe built her business, El Pipila, from the ground up. She worked almost every job possible in the restaurant business, until one day her friend Alicia told her, “You should just open a restaurant.” From there she built her credit and finances at Mission Asset Fund, went through La Cocina’s incubator program, and received one of MAF’s microloans. When she started her business it was just her. Now, she employs her whole family in one way or another.
Cooking for Guadalupe has always been a family affair, and today was no different. Guadalupe drifts in and out of thought as she talked about how she and her mother would make the tastiest tortillas from scratch and now, she and her daughters do the same.
She fondly remembers all the time spent with her siblings and mother in the kitchen. Each child had a specific duty and would always take the utmost care in completing it. For them food wasn’t just sustenance, it was the love of family made tangible and delicious.
With one of MAF’s microloans, Guadalupe was able to buy equipment and partially pay for a van for her thriving catering business. She is careful to tell us that even though she is doing well now, when she started she thought her catering business would never make it. Her food didn’t immediately catch on so she had to be very patient. It took her a few months, but people started coming to her booth and requesting her for events and dinner parties.
She now dreams of one day having a small food stand, a brick and mortar location that families can come to. When we asked why she is doing this, she looks back at her daughter and says, “I am doing this for her and her sister. I want to make sure that neither of them has to work for anyone but themselves”.