In many families, it is common for recipes to be passed down from generation to generation. For Estrella Gonzalez and her family, recipes for tamales, pupusas and tostadas also come with a place at the food trade table.
As the owner of Estrellita’s Snacks in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, Gonzalez continues his mother’s business legacy while passing it on to his own children. The recipes, the business acumen, everything is passed on to the next generation.
“My mother told me when I was young that all of this would be for me in the future,” Gonzalez said. “So it was very important for me to follow and keep the culture alive.”
Gonzalez learned to make pupusas from his mother Maria del Carmen Flores while growing up in his native El Salvador. Her mother learned her mother’s trade, selling Salvadoran delicacies as well as fresh fruit sprinkled with chili and salt on the streets. The family then moved to Mexico, learning to cook regional specialties and again selling on the streets for a living.
When Carmen Flores moved her family to San Francisco, she made her living making and packaging plantains and yucca chips to sell on the street. She called her business Estrellita’s Snacks. Gonzalez and her siblings grew up helping her in her endeavors.
“My mom was always a dreamer,” Gonzalez said. “She always wanted her children to have something to fall back on to come to the United States”
Carmen Flores joined the incubator program of La Cocina, a nonprofit group that helps immigrant and women of color start their own businesses. She had planned to move into the group’s new market in San Francisco’s gritty Tenderloin. But she fell ill because the pandemic delayed the opening of La Cocina market.
When it finally opened in 2021, it was now her daughter Gonzalez at the helm of the business, carefully hand-training thousands of pupusas while learning the ins and outs of running an operation. professional food. She sees it as a tribute to her mother, who is slowly recovering from her illness.
“That’s why it’s very important for everyone to know that we don’t let the business die, because that would be like letting your dream die,” Gonzalez said, sitting at her market booth.
Dreams got complicated when the pandemic ended life in San Francisco, thwarting plans and derailing aspirations. But one thing has kicked into high gear: food delivery. Estrellita’s Snacks has kicked into high gear, making some 10,000 handmade pupusas a week.
Gonzalez never shied away from working hard or putting in long hours. These days, when she’s not behind her gazebo grill, she can be found making pupusas and tamales at many of the city’s farmers markets.
“My mom, she wakes up really early in the morning and she puts a lot of hours into it,” her son Angel Gonzalez said. “Sometimes she comes home at 11 at night.”
Angel now works alongside his mother at the La Cocina kiosk. A sister goes to business school. Gonzalez’s twin sons also work at Estrellita’s Snacks on weekends. For Gonzalez, family is the secret ingredient in his traditional Salvadoran recipes, which now have legions of followers.
“I’m very happy about it, I get very emotional when customers come back and tell me the pupusas are the best they’ve had,” she said. “I always keep in mind that I have to cook with an open heart as if I was cooking for myself or my children.”
Gonzalez aims to grow her business, passing on to her children the same opportunities as her own mother, while passing on her love of her native Salvadoran heritage.
“I was always taught as a young girl if you want to get ahead you can get ahead, and that language is not a barrier because hard work always pays off,” said González said.