Some businesses remain closed while others attempt to brave the COVID-19 storm in Salt Lake City’s west side

Some businesses remain closed while others attempt to brave the COVID-19 storm in Salt Lake City’s west side

Story and photos by MARTIN KUPRIANOWICZ

klub deen

Klub Deen in west Salt Lake City’s Poplar Grove neighborhood has been closed since early April when the coronavirus began shutting down the nation’s economy.

Business owners everywhere are getting hit hard by the financial impacts of COVID-19 as hundreds if not thousands are being forced to temporarily suspend physical operations.

One such owner is Newton Gborway, the owner of Klub Deen, a nightclub with a focus on African culture, music, and dance in Salt Lake City’s west-side Poplar Grove neighborhood. 

“Music and dancing are a huge part of life in Africa,” Gborway said in a phone interview. “It brings people together and it’s a great way for everyone to have fun, especially refugees who may be struggling after they move here.”

Gborway is from the West African nation of Liberia. Like most other Americans, he was taken by surprise when everything started shutting down because of social-distancing mandates. His business — which operates on the coming together of large groups of people — was hit especially hard.

“Every day that we’ve been closed we’ve been losing money,” Gborway said. “We had to shut down in the beginning of April because of what the public health order said, and now they’ve just pushed it back until the end of the month. We want to set a good example by following these health orders and doing what the government is telling everybody.”

As Utah’s stay-home directive gets extended until May 1, Gborway can only patiently wait to get the green light to re-open business doors. He hopes that the spread of COVID-19 is reduced and public health orders allow for some normalcy to return. Otherwise, his night club business will continue to suffer financially every day it remains closed. 

klub deen 2 

klub deen 1

A COVID-19 health notice posted on the outside of Klub Deen.

Some other west-side business owners are more fortunate than others. Those who own or operate what Utah decides are “essential businesses” are still able to keep their workplaces open for now. Christine Mason — the owner of Rise by Good Day, a Polish grocery located in the same Poplar Grove neighborhood as Gborway’s club — is still running her store at this time. However, she has had to make drastic changes to the way she does business and she, too, has suffered near-catastrophic financial loss.

“When the shutdown started, I had to close down my catering business,” Mason said. “I lost 98% of my revenue stream with that alone.”

Mason said in a phone interview that times have been tough for the Polish grocery store. As the coronavirus put its grip on the economy nationwide and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert urged his state’s citizens to “stay home, stay safe,” Mason had to make modifications to her shop.

“We’re hanging in there. We’ve had to adapt since this has happened, and a lot less people have been walking into the store,” Mason said. “But we’ve just ordered sneeze guards and a new hand sanitizer station and we’re going to continue to stay open as long as we can. We’re just going to have to take this one day at a time.” 

But it’s not all doom and gloom for Mason. She’s optimistic about the future. She just hired a new chef and plans to stay open as long as possible. “People still need food,” Mason said, and with that in mind she’s confident she can get through this crisis. 

For business owners like Gborway and Mason, there’s not much else they can do besides wait and remain positive and adapt their businesses where they can. They do not know what the future will bring. 

In the meantime, Salt Lake City’s nightclubs will stay closed hoping they can reopen soon, and food stores deemed “essential” will continue to strive to give their customers what they need. As Christine Mason put it, you can only take things now one day at a time. And as time goes by, sanguine west-side business owners along with an anxious nation are all doing just that. 

Rise by Good Day

A pre-pandemic photograph of Rise By Good Day in west Salt Lake City’s Poplar Grove neighborhood.

 

Local pantries struggle to meet the demand of COVID-19 virus in Utah

Story by ELLIE COOK

The hoarding situation that arose upon the arrival of the COVID-19 virus has only increased following the 5.7 earthquake that rattled the Salt Lake Valley on March 18, 2020. While the public hunts across the state for items such as toilet paper and paper towels, pantries in the community struggle to keep their shelves stocked to ensure those in need get the supplies not only needed for quarantine but also everyday survival. The organizations in the western area of Salt Lake City are scrambling to focus on inventory, while also having to serve many more people and adjust their protocols to meet safety needs implemented by the state of Utah. 

The community consists of many working-class and/or impoverished families, many of whom have a yearly income of less than $80,000 a year, said David Wright, director and educator of the Earth Community Garden & Food Pantry, in an email interview. Organizations that provide food security already serve a great population within the area, but the need only seems to be growing. The pantries have seen a significant increase in clientele since The Road Home, the main homeless shelter in Salt Lake City, closed downtown. Now as the virus forces more businesses to close, making the unemployment rates skyrocket and the earthquake damaging some homes, these organizations are struggling to find enough supplies and volunteers to tend to the large crowds pursuing their services. 

When asked about plans regarding situations such as natural disasters or other national emergencies, Captain Rob Lawler of The Salvation Army said in an email, “The Salvation Army has always been ready to respond to disasters and crisis since 1906 in Galveston, Texas, when we first responded as a response agency. You might say it is in our DNA!” 

However, it seems with the cards stacked against the state of Utah, just being prepared isn’t enough for anybody. While toiletries and other health/cleaning items are always in demand, the panic and hoarding issue the pandemic has caused has only made them even scarcer. “We do have an increased demand at this time,” said Kate Corr, the communications coordinator at Utah Community Action, in an email. “Right now, many clients are in greatest need of emergency services, primarily food, housing, and utility assistance. … At this time we will continue to do everything we can to keep providing essential emergency services to our children, families, and clients.”

While the inventory remains an issue, the ability to serve the community promptly has become hard as well, due to safety measures being taken to protect volunteers and the public. This becomes tough as everyone is short-staffed and in need of volunteers. It’s also time-consuming to take on new help because they must be screened to be sure they do not put people’s health at risk. 

Some organizations are no longer accepting new volunteers to protect current staff from exposure. “Our protocol is much more controlled and strict,” said David Wright. “We no longer have lines and instead are having clients with cars stay in their vehicles. Those without cars stay 10 feet away from each other.” The Earth Community Garden & Food Pantry, The Salvation Army and other organizations have also taken on drive-by pickup services. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic having an unknown end, and still in recovery from the earthquake, how can the public get help? Is there any assurance that people can get necessities, and also ensure that nonprofits can attend to the growing amount of clients? “As we see the fallout from businesses closing and people either losing jobs or having reduced work hours, our organization recommends that people consider applying for SNAP (otherwise known as food stamps),” said Gina Cornia, the executive director of Utahns Against Hunger, in an email. Utahns Against Hunger also provides lists of places where people can obtain essential items if they are not receiving an income. 

For the rest of us, any donations from food, cleaning supplies, and perhaps the most coveted item of all, some good old toilet paper, will be gladly received by any local pantry (please see list below). If you require assistance concerning food or other home essentials, reach out to Utahns Against Hunger or any of the listed sources. 

Earth Community Garden & Food Pantry

“We are looking for gardeners for this season. Growing your own, locally sourced food is proving to be more and more vital. Do not harm those around you. As an organization, we extend our services with no regards to; class, race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, gender identity, immigration status, or social/political ideology, and we encourage others to extend themselves and their services (groups or individually) in the same way.”

Utahns Against Hunger 

“The benefits people get to purchase food have an immediate positive impact on the economy and that money circulates throughout every community.”

The Salvation Army

“We are making about 400 meals a day to take home, we are operating 7 days a week.”

 

Santo Taco: a pillar of community in crisis 

Story by PALAK JAYSWAL

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shut down our world, it may be an understatement to say its effects on particular trades will be devastating. From entertainment to athletics, industries and workers alike will not be left unscathed by this pandemic. 

On a more local level, those who are most economically vulnerable are small business owners who rely on people leaving their houses to help pay their own bills. 

One local Utah business, a taqueria called Santo Taco, located in Rose Park at 910 N. 900 West, continues to serve people via takeout orders and curbside delivery in adherence to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic, combined with the added stress of recovery from the Magna-centered 5.7 earthquake that rocked Utah on March 18, 2020, the taqueria provides comfort to Utahns while sticking to the traditional values it is built on. 

The Story 

According to their website, the owners of Santo Taco, Claudia and Alfonso Santo, have been in Utah for decades, and their taqueria has been a work in progress for many years. When Claudia and Alfonso first got started in the food industry, they were washing dishes in the kitchen. Through years of learning skills from the culinary industry and working to build a life for their growing family, they slowly immersed themselves in the art of food. 

Originally opened in 2019, Santo Taco prides itself on its long journey through fresh food and traditional flavors. The journey is one of dedication, family and innovation. The trademark home-style cooking from Santo Taco is adapted in the owners’ way, catering to the vegetarian palates as two of the couple’s children are vegetarians. Modifying these recipes is a remarkable feature considering many Mexican plates are heavy on the meat. 

The menu of Santo Taco has something for everyone — from the tacos, of course, to quesadillas and burritos. There are several popular snack items available as well, such as nachos and asada fries. While the food is delicious, during times like these, it’s not just the food that brings customers to the doors of Santo Taco. 

Community and Crisis 

Rodolfo Rangel Jr., a realtor in Utah, is proud to dine at Santo Taco during COVID-19 lockdown. “We are together in this crisis. If we don’t support each other, everyone will be affected one way or another,” Rangel said in an interview over direct message. 

While Rangel is acquainted with Salt Lake City through his profession, he is aware of the value a support system of a community can provide. “I know the owners and I know how hard they worked to open this business. I just want to do my part. They are a hard-working family and I know they always help anyone in need,” Rangel said regarding the Santo family. 

Rangel is one of many who wants to do his part to support local businesses and families. Steve Kinyon, food blogger behind Foody Fellowship, also marveled at the quality of food from Santo Taco and the sense of stability it provides in these uncertain times. “It’s important to support local [businesses] right now because there are already thin margins,” Kinyon said in an interview over direct message. 

While Kinyon sang praises for Santo Taco on his Instagram account, he also had kind words for the people behind the food. “Santo Taco has amazing owners and operators for their business. They are genuinely great people, they care about the community,” Kinyon said. 

In times of true panic, there are certain things that provide comfort to individuals, like a good book, a warm blanket or your favorite takeout food. Self-isolating is now the norm for many people across the country, and Utah is no different. But what does this mean for local businesses? As the world continues to change on a daily basis, Santo Taco and its patrons remind us of why supporting local businesses — circumstances permitting — is important.

Food is as diverse as people in Salt Lake City’s west side 

Story and photos by MARTIN KUPRIANOWICZ

Rise by Good Day

Rise by Good Day is Salt Lake City’s only Polish market.

The cuisine on the west side of Salt Lake City is as diverse as its people. In a portion of a city that’s nestled between the desert and the mountains, you can find restaurants with styles of food and owners from almost all continents. Because, no matter what corner of the world you find yourself in, you will realize that food is not only a necessity — it is a way of life.

The Horn of Africa is run by a friendly Somali family. When patrons walk into the restaurant in the Glendale neighborhood they encounter intoxicating aromas of east African spices. They might also see someone praying in the corner, depending on the time of day. 

“My mother is a good cook, so it is only natural for her to open a restaurant here. Food is a big part of life in Somalia,” Kabar Gedi said.

Gedi moved to Utah from Somalia with his family 12 years ago. They have owned and operated their restaurant for six years.

The restaurant is located in an industrial-looking part of town. Halimo Omar — the chef and Gedi’s mother — recommended a traditional Somali goat dish served with rice and a spicy, green sauce. Goat has a chewier, leaner consistency than other meats Americans typically eat. 

Gedi explained to a customer that a nomadic lifestyle is still practiced by much of the population in Somalia.

horn of africa

The Horn of Africa had this painting inside the restaurant. Much of the population in Somali is still nomadic. 

“What a car is to you is like what a camel is to us over there,” he said. “And camel milk is very, very good.”

The diversity of food and people in this part of town is easy to see. Just a few blocks south from The Horn of Africa is Rise by Good Day — a Polish market and family-owned restaurant operated by Christine Mason. It is Salt Lake City’s only Polish market.

The shop is a small 600-square-foot unit on the ground floor of an office building in Poplar Grove on Salt Lake City’s west side. The market sells only authentic goods and freshly prepared dishes like pierogi, polish sausage with cabbage, and red beet soup. It recently celebrated its second anniversary in December 2019.

Mason was raised by Polish parents in the cultural hub of Chicago. She moved to Salt Lake City after marrying a Utah native. Mason worked for a catering business for seven years before fulfilling her dreams of owning a restaurant and market that sells what she said is the best kind of food.

“You can cook Polish food but if you’re using American products it turns out just slightly different,” Mason said.

That’s why Mason said all of her market’s food is shipped in weekly from Polish grocers in Chicago. This keeps the dishes she serves, the ingredients she sells, and the pastries she bakes authentically Polish.

During a recent visit, the week’s most popular item was pączki (pronounced pon-shki).

Pączki are the Polish versions of jelly-filled doughnuts, which are less greasy than traditional American doughnuts. The ones Mason makes are so popular that she sold over 2,000 that week alone.

“We had a line in here last Tuesday all day long. I was back in the kitchen frying [oączki] until about 6:00 at night until we finally had to close the doors,” Mason said.

Travel a few more blocks north to the corner of Redwood Road and North Temple and you’ll pass by an assortment of ethnic food restaurants ranging from South American-style cafes to Asian markets. One dining option is The Star of India — a colorful, family-owned Indian restaurant with a full bar, lunch buffet, and a menu of succulent tandoori and curry dishes.

The Kaur family has owned the restaurant since 1990. It was once located downtown, but due to heavy competition, the family decided to relocate their restaurant to the inside of the Ramada Inn four years ago.

Param Kaur manages the restaurant and her father — Avatar — is its chef.

“He’s back there, in the kitchen, all day, every day,” Param said. “He loves what he does, and because of that, the food here is really good. Especially the spinach — you can’t go wrong with that.”

One dish that is particularly popular is the naan bread. It’s a simple flatbread that is served as an appetizer or alongside other dishes, but the way it is made at The Star of India is unique when compared to other Indian restaurants in Salt Lake City. 

Param said their recipe calls for a softer flour and is cooked in a traditional clay oven. It’s a technique that her father has been refining since his youth in India.

So, if you venture to the west side of Salt Lake City with a hungry stomach and an open mind, you will find people who look different than you but have something that everybody has in common — we all love to eat.

 

 

Latinx businesses in the Salt Lake City area

Story and gallery by IASIA BEH

Utah’s demographics are rapidly changing.

Not only has Utah’s population grown the fastest in the country in the past 19 years, but the number of people of color who live in Utah has also ballooned in recent years. The Latinx community, in particular, has grown nearly 15 percent between 2010 and 2016, according to the U.S. Census. This coincides with Utah’s growing economy, adding 115 percent more Latinx businesses from 1997-2015.

Alex Guzman, the president and CEO of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, located at 1635 S. Redwood Road, has a couple ideas as to what the reasoning behind the population growth could be. One, that Latinx families are more likely to have more children than white families. And second, internal immigration.

“Internal immigration is one of the reasons,” Guzman said. “When the lives turn tough for the immigrant community in Arizona, Nevada and California, they move up.” He said people are moving from nearby cities such as Phoenix and Las Vegas to West Valley City, where they can find goods and services in Spanish. 

Rancho Markets is an example of one of these services. Founded in 2006, the stores are run by Latinx individuals and the signs are displayed in Spanish.

Está cerca de donde vivo,” said a mom, Rosa, at the 140 N. 900 West location. Through a translator, she said that the store is close to where she lives and it’s convenient.

Looking at a map of Salt Lake City grocery stores, most are on the east side, leaving the mostly brown west side to go to fewer stores such as Rancho Markets. This is a positive if you are catering to only Latinx individuals as there would almost be a monopoly, but breaking into the white market has proven to be difficult.

There are many reasons why that is. One is the fact that many Latinx people haven’t been taught how to run a business in the first place. The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, however, is looking to fix this discrepancy.

“[Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce] created a program we call the Business Academy,” Guzman said. “In partnership with colleges and universities, every single 10 weeks we start a new program where we train the Hispanic business community on how to do business in the U.S.”

Another benefit of the program is that it helps its attendees learn English. The language barrier can be a huge hurdle when expanding markets to serve communities that don’t speak Spanish.

“Currently we are teaching these classes in Spanish,” Guzman said. “But little by little we are turning the switch from Spanish to bilingual, and bilingual to monolingual. English is the language of business. If they insist to work and serve just to serve Spanish customers, they have a roof in their businesses because we are just 17 percent of the population.”

Programs like these show that there is a cultural shift happening in the state but it still is a majority English-speaking, white area. But with the way that demographics are swinging and with the booming Latinx business economy, the Latinx community will continue to grow in Utah. Maybe, in a few years, English-centered businesses will have to learn Spanish in order to stay competitive. Until then, the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce will be there to make being an entrepreneur a reality for Latinx individuals.   

Latinx business owners bringing value to Utah

Story and photos by KAELI WILTBANK

Hector Uribe stepped out from behind the restaurant kitchen, dressed in a white apron and a University of Utah cap. He sat down on a stool inside the lobby of the restaurant his father-in-law passed on to him in 2011 and began explaining his journey toward becoming a business owner.

Uribe explained that he grew up in Mexico and learned the value of hard work from a young age. He explained, “I ditched school when I was in sixth grade, so I was 11 years old when I went to work for somebody else to make money to help out the family.”

Uribe came to the United States from Mexico when he was just 17 years old and started working at his father-in-law’s restaurant weeks after his arrival in 1992. His plan was to save enough money to open up a hardware store back in Mexico. But, he said business owners in Mexico face great dangers because they are at risk of being robbed by the cartel. Uribe realized greater success was awaiting him as a business owner in Salt Lake City.

Hector’s, the chosen name of the company after Uribe took it over, has become a popular Mexican food destination for locals, with both the man and his food becoming iconic elements of the community.

A group of students from Highland High School recently came and interviewed Uribe about his journey as a business owner, he said. They were looking to speak with a successful person in the community, but Uribe explained, “I don’t see myself that way, I just think I am hard working.”

Salt Lake City was recently ranked as one of the best metropolitan areas for minority entrepreneurs to start a business. With the Latinx population becoming the second most rapidly growing demographic of the state of Utah, there has been a corresponding influx of Latinx-owned businesses. 

According to the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, 10,000 businesses in the state of Utah are Latinx-owned and operated. 

Rebecca Chavez-Houck, a former Utah State House representative, is a third-generation American, with her grandfather immigrating to the United States from Mexico. While immigrants like Uribe are seen as successful business owners, Chavez-Houck is familiar with the negative connotations associated with immigrants. She said, “There is this notion of the deficit within communities of color, instead of looking at where our strengths are. Yes, notably persons of color are more within the criminal justice system. We have challenges with poverty and a variety of different things, but that’s not all who we are.” She added, “We are a much more complex community than that.”

Nera Economic Consulting found that nationally, “Latinos are responsible for 29 percent of the growth in real income since 2005.” With successful Hispanic-owned businesses dotting the Utah map, the positive impact brought by the Latinx community is significant to the local economy. The study continued, “They account for roughly 10 cents of every dollar of US national income, and that proportion is rising both due to growth in the Latino population and rising per capita earnings.” 

Uribe spoke with gratitude as he described the opportunity he has had to operate a business of his own. “When we come over here we are happy to have a job. I don’t say it’s a necessity for Hispanics to own their own business, but if there’s an opportunity you need to take it. It’s not as easy to start a business there (in Mexico).”

Alex Guzman, president and CEO of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, explained to a group of students at the University of Utah, “The Hispanic business community, in the majority of cases, open businesses not because they want to be an entrepreneur, but because they have to provide for their families, so they become business owners with no intention of becoming business owners. But,” he said, “as business owners, they need to learn how to run a business. They need to learn how to file taxes, they need to know how to hire, how to do invoicing, how to deal with customers, how to marketing and sales, human resources, legal issues, etc.”

Offering resources and a supportive community, the UHCC provides local Latinx business owners and entrepreneurs with valuable tools they need to succeed. Guzman explained, “We created a program called The Business Academy. Every 10 weeks we start a new program where we train the Hispanic community on how to do business in the U.S.” 

The rapidly growing Latinx community in Utah has made an impact on the local economy and culture of the state. Resources offered by the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce have become valuable tools for business owners and entrepreneurs like Uribe. His words of wisdom to other entrepreneurial-minded people in the community was, “You’ve got to do everything you can and do it the best you can so you don’t ever feel like you left something behind. The world is full of opportunities and you just need to feel which one you want to take.”

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The can of beans in your pantry could save a family

Story and photo by KOTRYNA LIEPINYTE

More than 21,833.

That’s the number of people who reported their income levels as below the poverty line from the 133,656 people who live in West Valley City.

West Valley City has a rate of poverty that is higher than in other Utah cities. “I have seen families with little kids go to bed hungry,” says resident Omar Reyes, shaking his head, “It’s wild.”

Although Reyes himself doesn’t face the issue firsthand, others do. Reyes lived next to a struggling community and researched the issues. Poverty does not necessarily connote starvation, however. Often times, poverty in the United States leads to malnutrition that  leads to higher risk of disease.

The diseases tend to be foreign to us, which then require doctor’s assistance. However, the families who deal with these illnesses don’t have the financial aid for healthcare, either. Unfortunately, these families choose to suffer in silence, compromising their life instead of facing debt they may be unable to repay.

Poverty also does not have one face. It can be seen in the most inconspicuous places, even right in front of your eyes. Poverty is overlooked in the United States because of the set stereotypes placed upon it. It’s a common misconception that a person living under the poverty line must look homeless and starving.

ed for story 2

Edwardo Hurtado, a student at the University of Utah, stocking up on some Otter Pops to distribute to the food banks.

Edwardo Hurtado, a student at the University of Utah, debunks this stereotype. “It’s incredibly frustrating when people think you have to look poor,” he says. “These people don’t look poor. These people just can’t afford good groceries. They can’t afford their bills and they can’t afford their healthcare.”

Hurtado stresses the importance of food drives in the community. “It’s the easiest way to help out,” he states. “Just bring cans of food.” The Utah Food Bank accepts donations year-round at most Harmon’s locations. You can also donate money directly to the food bank on the website.

Having done food drives in areas of South America, Hurtado hopes to bring the same success from the South American drives to the local communities here. “We helped a lot of families down there,” Hurtado says, “and we’re just hoping to bring the same gusto here.”

Hurtado works closely with the food drives in West Valley City, including Utah Community Action and the Community Action Program food pantry. He volunteers his time serving the residents and helps prepare emergency packets. For information on how to volunteer, call (801) 972-6661.

Gabriel Alfaro, a resident in West Valley City, thinks back on the time his family was below the poverty line. “You adapt,” he begins in his response email, “but it’s terrifying. The worst part is not knowing how long you’ll be in that grey area.”

Alfaro also helps with food drives when he can. Alfaro and his family often make care packages for their neighbors who are still living in poverty. “We know what it’s like to go to bed without food,” he writes. “And now that we don’t, we want to help our friends who still do.”

The care packages typically consist of nonperishable food items along with blankets and socks. Alfaro’s family makes and distributes about five care packages a week, first to families whom they know and then to strangers. They knock on doors and leave the packages in mailboxes or on front porches.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported in 2015 that the racial segregation around the poverty line was huge. White people below the poverty line live on the east side of the city, while minorities below the poverty line live on the west side. On the east side, 16.2 percent of those residents live below the poverty line and 32.5 percent of that poor population are minorities.

On the west side, 17.1 percent of the population is poor and 68.8 percent of that population are minorities. While the poverty rate has gone down over the years, the minority rate has increased.

“Minority is the majority in West Valley, and it’s just going to keep growing,” Alfaro says. “A big chunk of those guys live off of food stamps.”

RoadSnacks compiled a list of the top-10 poorest places in Utah for 2019, and while West Valley City dodged the list, the feeling of fear still hovers. “I couldn’t imagine living in this place of limbo where you don’t know if you’re going to get dinner or not,” Reyes says.

Hurtado’s call to action is simply looking at your pantry. “Chances are, you probably have food in there that you haven’t eaten, and don’t plan to,” he says. “When you look at that food, imagine how stoked a starving family would be to have it? Put it in your car and next time you’re at Harmons, drop it off. And hey, you just fed a family.”

What you think about when you think about Latin Food

Story and photos by SHAUN AJAY

Latin American cuisine is sometimes seen as synonymous with your neighborhood taco or burrito stand. A restaurant in Virginia discusses in an article how most of our perceptions of Mexican food are inaccurate. Dishes we typically think about aren’t really Mexican, but a fusion between American and Mexican food. Not all Latin food is fried. Not all Latin food is tortillas with beans and rice. Yes, Mexico is on the list, but it isn’t the sole contributor to this rich and diverse culture of Latin food. In every South American country, there is a specific regional taste.

MEXICO

Taqueria Los Lee is a small family business at 700 E. 2646 South in Salt Lake City. The restaurant is a building in the corner of the street, beside a Sinclair gas station. The menu is drawn in primary colors on a blackboard. The daughter of the owner suggested a plate of tacos and gorditas with rice and beans (frijoles) and un medio litro de Cola (half liter). A fitting size meal for an ordinary customer.

The restaurant has little paper cutouts of cacti, sombreros and chilis colorfully hung up on the ceiling. The walls are covered with little lotería cards: a red sun, a scorpion, some palm trees. The whole thing feels like a summer’s breeze in mid-July in the chilly month of February.

A plate of gorditas with rice and frijoles.

The order arrives in 15 minutes, steaming and carrying a strong aroma of fried garlic and cilantro. Frijoles is a doughy sauce made from pinto beans boiled for six hours on low-fire. The gordita (meaning chubby in Spanish) drips some rich oil like liquid gold on a ceramic plate.

Oscar Lee, the patriarch of the restaurant, has his lunch break before his interview. He is from Victoria City in Tamaulipas, Mexico, a state historically known for its agricultural and livestock prosperity. He used to live by the border near Texas and immigrated to the United States. He has lived in Utah for nearly 17 years and has been running his restaurant since July 2018.

Lee wanted to cater to his area and provide what he believes is authentic Mexican food. The demographic of his customers is true to this fact, during lunch hour, the restaurant is occupied by Spanish speakers. But after an article written by the Salt Lake Tribune, he has had more gringos (an American who is not Latinx) visit his restaurant and even become regular customers.

He turns and faces the menu on the blackboard and, like a school teacher, starts to explain his menu. He said their las gorditas is their most popular dish, with either homemade asada (roasted pork or chicken) or potatoes stuffed inside. But he prefers to snack on something a little more sweet called esquites. This is a dish made with corn, freshly cut from the grain, that is mixed with margarine and fresh cheese in a cup.

Lee said that red enchiladas are his most special dish. He makes them with corn tortillas, fresh cheese, ground beef and a red chili sauce. He prefers to not make this too spicy. Another special dish is chicken mole. It mixes chicken breasts with some chocolate and peanuts. Genuine chicken mole takes days to make with additional ingredients. He said that ready-made mole is available, but he prefers making everything from scratch.

Shortly after the restaurant opened, Lee said he was approached by Sysco, a food distribution company, to provide him with menu ingredients. He refused to take the offer, as they were all ready-made and only involved putting them in the oven. “It takes the authenticity from cooking, and from the food,” he said. Lee believes in making his ingredients daily to preserve the authenticity of his cuisine that reminds him and many others of home.

EL SALVADOR

Juanita Restaurant is a small family-owned business at 271 W. 900 South in Salt Lake City. The restaurant specializes in classic Salvadorian food. Carolina Vides, the daughter of the owners, was born in Cabañas, Sensuntepeque. Her family moved to the U.S. in the 1990s and opened this restaurant only four years ago. The restaurant business has always been a part of the Vides family, having run another in Salvador, cooking and making the same pupusas that they love.

IMG_3517

A look inside Juanita’s restaurant

Juanita’s is designed with dark maroon and bright yellow wall paint. Diners can take a seat by the television screen in the corner that broadcasts the Premier League with Spanish commentary. Vides then sits down to talk about the menu — a wide selection of main dishes, appetizers and finger snacks to try.

Pupusas, you should go for the pupusas,” she said. They are a typical Salvadorian snack made from either rice or corn flour. Her favorite is the corn flour. Vides said the pupusas are a staple diet in El Salvador, having been passed down from generation to generation. The fillings are versatile and can be made with anything from chicharron (pork skin) to frijol con queso (beans with cheese). She offered an assorted plate of mini pupusas.

Vides said most people confuse this with Mexican gorditas. Most of her customers are either Mexican or Guatemalan. She places the pupusas on the table beside a tub of curtido, or coleslaw, and a bottle of spicy tomato sauce that complements the meaty pupusas.

For the main dish, she presented a plate of mojarra frita (fried fish) with green salad, rice, and tortillas. The fish is a fresh-water tilapia, cooked till a dark brown like charred wood, but the inside remained a creamy white texture. The restaurant also sells bottles of Kola Champagne by Cuzcatlan, a classic soft drink with a sweet mix of orange syrup and carbonated soda. It leaves a refreshing taste in the mouth.

While patrons feast on the tenderness of their tilapia or pupusas, Vides is usually tending to other customers, flipping tortillas on a hot pan, or taking orders on the phone. One can leave the restaurant feeling very satisfied.

PERU

Giulia Soto is a second-year program coordinator and advisor at the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs (CESA) at the University of Utah. She comes from an indigenous family from Huancayo, in the central highlands of Peru. Soto immigrated to West Valley City at age 5, during the sendero luminoso era, a Communist party during the 1990s that wanted to overrun the government. Her father was able to come to the U.S. and was given a work visa to live in the mountains as a shepherd.

“Since my family is indigenous, it affects . . . how I was brought up, and the foods that I eat,” Soto said. Her diet is completely Peruvian. That was all she knew of during her younger years. The most common dishes for her are arroz chaufa, lomo saltado, and pollo a la brasa.

Arroz chaufa (Chinese rice) and lomo saltado are a mixed style of Chinese fried rice and vegetables with typical meats like pork, chicken or beef. Soto said that most of their dishes use white rice, potatoes and chicken. “We laugh about this sometimes, because a lot of people connect this to the Asian community,” she said. Her favorite dish to make is aji de gallina (chicken stew) that combines rice, potatoes and aji de gallina (yellow capsicum). Soto said this dish is usually considered to be Peruvian comfort food. 

Soto in front of her Huancayo displays

A common ingredient across the board is pimiento y comino (black pepper). Another is aji panca, a hot red capsicum that’s not too spicy, and is used as a paste when making food like tallarin rojo (Peruvian red spaghetti). All of these spices are indigenous to Peru and are the trademark for its dishes.

La Pequeñita International market at 2740 State St. is owned by a Peruvian in Salt Lake City. It provides imported ingredients from Latin America to the locals in Utah. Soto said she sometimes sees people driving down from Idaho and buying these ingredients in bulk. “You have to be savvy at cooking, cuz it’s just aisles and aisles of herbs and spices, and you should know what to use it for,” she said.

Pachamanca peruana is a popular dish from the mountainous regions of Peru. Pacha means earth and manka means pot in Quechua, the indigenous language of Soto’s family, spoken in the highlands. The dish is made for special occasions like family gatherings or fundraisers, as it requires extreme preparation.

Soto said that the pachamanca is usually comprised of marinated sheep meat, camote (sweet potato) and humitas (fresh corn with dough). She also noted that humitas is usually mistaken for tamal, a Mesoamerican dish, that tastes savory and usually has stuffings like chicken inside. The pachamanca begins with heating stones over a fire, and then placing everything into a natural oven dug from the ground, cooking the meat for about two hours.

Soto said that the pachamanca is not something you would see at a restaurant in Lima, let alone in a Peruvian restaurant in Salt Lake City. The pachamanca is only maintained as a tradition through teaching the next generation how it’s done. However, one way to grab a taste, without buying your next ticket to Peru is to attend fundraisers.

In Utah, Peruvian families come together and do fundraisers for the community where they make and sell food and sometimes host soccer tournaments. “It’s a way for us to help each other out, someone who’s had a car accident or immigration issues,” Soto said. There are at least 15-20 fundraisers in the summer between the months of June and August that she attends. 

The Peruvian community in Utah typically hosts its fundraisers at what it calls “parque canipaco,” or Parkway Park, in West Valley City. These fundraisers not only help the community at large for Peruvians, but also is a way of keeping their tradition alive through food and celebration. For more information about these fundraisers, contact Soto at giulia.soto@utah.edu.

 

Juan Chacon, a Mexican immigrant turned restaurant owner

Story and photo by KILEE THOMAS

Situated in Kearns, Utah, is the authentic Mexican restaurant, Acapulco. The family-run and -operated restaurant opened 1991 at its original location (just a few blocks away) before reopening at its current location at 4722 4015 West. 

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Acapulco Mexican restaurant is particularly known for its smothered burrito.

Juan Chacon, a 61-year-old Mexican immigrant, is the man behind the popular eatery, Acapulco. Chacon sat in a corner booth toward the rear of his restaurant.

The atmosphere has a homey and nostalgic feeling with its giant box TV screening the latest American football game, the tables filled with endless chips and salsa baskets and the walls covered with hanging swordfish, sombreros, original Hispanic paintings as well as a giant mural of the ocean that takes up the entirety of the back wall.

He looks around his restaurant with a warm smile before taking off his Houston baseball cap.

Chacon believed fate intervened with his journey to the United States. “It’s destiny, I guess,” Chacon said. He wasn’t escaping violence or seeking asylum. He saw it as a simple opportunity to live a different life.

He left his family farm in Chihuahua, Mexico, in 1978 when he was 20 years old. He wasn’t searching for valued success, he was searching for purpose. “I didn’t need money, I wanna do something,” Chacon said.

He started working at a Chinese restaurant in Salt Lake City when he arrived in Utah before going back to his home town to spend time with his father for three months. When Chacon returned to Salt Lake City later that year, he landed a job at a Mexican restaurant where he worked the food line in the kitchen.

Chacon said this is where he learned how to run a restaurant. When he decided to leave the restaurant, he took a souvenir on his way out. “I stole the menu thinking, ‘one day I want to start my own restaurant,’” he said.

Chacon decided to open up the authentic Mexican restaurant with his brother to be his own boss and do things “my way,” he said. He reaches over, grabs the baseball hat and places it back on his head. “I believe to run a business, the first thing you have to do is work hard,” Chacon said.

He might be the owner, but he is also the dishwasher, cook, waiter and host. “I don’t get tired of working here everyday because I use to do this, but I use to do it for somebody else.” He points at the clock. “I can leave when I want, but I stay later than supposed to because I love talking with our customers.”

This type of friendly and outgoing energy is what’s kept Tiffanie and Rob Hargis loyal customers for the past 22 years. “We go at least one to two times a week. Their family always know when we are there and they come out to talk to us to see how we are doing,” she said.

The Hargises always make it a point to go to Acapulco for all of their family celebrations and get-togethers. “We have so many special memories tied to this restaurant. We have been going here for so many years after lacrosse practices and games, for birthdays and holidays,” Rob said.

Chacon and his family have built a special relationship with their customers. A relationship that goes past the usual bond between restaurant owner and customer; a relationship that feels more like family.

“When our parents passed away we gave them a huge picture for their wall that was in our parents’ house and it looks great in there. It’s like part of our family is there,” Tiffanie said. The southwestern picture of a pink sand-colored home and dusty pink sky is hung up in the back corner of the restaurant.

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Tiffanie and Rob Hargis donated the painting to the restaurant. Photo courtesy of Rob Hargis.

While the success of Chacon’s restaurant is something to be proud of, the journey that led him to where he is today wasn’t an easy one. It was costly.

When he first came to Utah, he bought a new $1,700 truck with the money that he had saved. The INS, otherwise known as ICE today, took away his truck after he was pulled over and asked for legal documentation.

Chacon paused for a moment. Becoming emotional from the pain of this memory, he said, “I still remember their faces.” Closing his eyes, he takes a deep breath and shakes his head as if to shake away the memory.

“They told me it wasn’t my car anymore. It belongs to the U.S. Government.” Chacon said he remembers feeling hopeless because the officers warned him not to get lawyers involved. He said the agents told him it would be a useless ploy that would cost him more than what he’d already lost.

“In Mexico, they always talk about freedom in the U.S. and that day, I found out it wasn’t really true,” he said.

He smiles as a way to relieve the built-up emotion in the room.

“I still have the truck’s title,” he said with a laugh.

Chacon may believe that the restaurant and his life today is in thanks to some sort of  divine intervention or fate, but his beloved family and customers think his determination to learn, fight against adversity head on and to live life “his way” is the center and heart of why Acapulco is the favorite restaurant to so many, even 27 years later.

Hispanic immigrants are creative and family-inspired

Screenshot 2019-03-06 15.26.51Story and photos by KRISTEN LAW

Alex Guzman, president and CEO of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said Hispanics are creating jobs and working hard. “They became business owners, with no intention to become business owners. They just had intentions to provide [for their family],” he said.

Moving to a new country and not knowing the language can be difficult. This calls for some creativity when it comes to employment. “What is the solution if I don’t have a job? Create my own job opportunity,” Guzman said. UHCC helps train Hispanic entrepreneurs and business owners and educates them on how to run a successful company. 

According to UHCC, “Success is most often achieved by knowing where your resources lie and not depending entirely on you[r] own talent and strengths.” Guzman said the UHCC helps teach basics like how to file taxes, how to hire and fire personnel, how to do invoicing, and many other skills that are necessary to know before starting a successful business. 

Local businesses are often creative and diverse. Five main industries are reflected in UHHC’s membership directory: restaurants; construction; landscape and snow removal; professional services including photographers, videographers, and accountants; and commercial or residential cleaners. Guzman said they make up about 85 percent of the members.

One local restaurant, although not a UHCC member, illustrates the family-inspired creativity that Guzman emphasized.

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Taqueria Los Lee is located at 2646 S. 700 East in Salt Lake City.

Taquería Los Lee began in the heat of the summer in 2018 in South Salt Lake with a passion and inspiration for flavorful, authentic Mexican food.

The moment you enter the restaurant you are quickly greeted by the Lee family’s welcoming presence. The large windows and open, sun-filled room displays colorful and traditional decorations, which also add to the intimate and wholesome feel of the restaurant.

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The menu of gorditas, tacos, and daily specials is handwritten on the chalkboard.

The family behind Taqueria Los Lee cherishes what they do. Each member has drive, purpose, and a solid work ethic and they inspire each other to be creative.

Rosi and Oscar Lee are the cooks, and their daughters Anileb Anderson and Flor Lee help run the business in various ways. Rosi said she loves to cook and has catered in the past, but she wanted to do something more with her passion for food and make it into a business.

She used to bring her dishes to community or neighborhood events. “People would try her food and would love it,” Anileb said.

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A combination plate with tacos and a gordita, a pocket made of masa and stuffed with filling.

Jim Light, a retired chef from the Salt Lake area, has become a regular at Taqueria Los Lee. He said he doesn’t remember exactly why he initially visited, but his first impressions left him coming back at least once a week since October 2018. “Everything I have had has been really excellent. Their mole sauce, in particular, is very very good,” Light said. “Part of the fun for me has just been getting to know this really cute family that owns this place.” The Lee family even taught Light how to make one of his favorite meals, a bean dish he had really come to enjoy. “They can’t afford to hire anybody, so it’s just a three-generations, family effort.”

Anileb works at the restaurant every day from open to close and helps cook when things get busy. Her sister works another job while helping run the business. Rosi and Oscar are the cooks. It really is a family endeavor. “We’re just a family that works here, so we like to be here with each other,” Anileb said.

This work ethic is bred into Hispanic culture. Guzman said it is not uncommon for some immigrants to work several jobs. However, family-run companies include the whole family, so working from a young age is typical. Working is a part of life. However, Guzman said it is not just about working hard, but about working smart. 

The Latinx community is contributing to Utah’s local economy and well-being not simply benefiting from it. Javier Palomarez, the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce president, said in a 2014 speech, “In the state of Utah, Hispanics are paying taxes, creating jobs, and greatly contributing to the local economy.” 

Growing up, Guzman said his father told him, “Work hard. Be the best in your class. Don’t be ambitious. Be content with what you have.” Guzman emphasizes the effect that family has in the Hispanic community in their drive for a successful business. The main goal is family and good living.