Opportunity in Detroit: Salvadorian cuisine takes root

ProsperUS Detroit and Global Detroit both work to serve immigrant and minority entrepreneurs. This story is one in a series that highlight local entrepreneurs and their economic contributions as they propel Detroit’s revitalization.

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By Beth Szurpicki

Cecilia Ardon’s life in Maryland was no cake walk. Like many Americans, she and her husband both worked hard to barely make a living. “We didn’t even have money to buy a hamburger at McDonald’s,” she recalls, adding that most of their income went to living expenses.  Cecilia enjoyed her job in a restaurant, but struggled with the hours: seven days a week for seven years, just to scrape by. When a family member mentioned the relatively low cost of living in Detroit, she, her husband and two daughters decided to take a chance on the Motor City.

Cecilia found work in an automotive factory on an evening shift, but it kept her away from her school-aged daughters most days. So, with the more affordable cost of living in Detroit, she decided to, for the first time since age 18, stop working to spend time with them. She didn’t handle the idle time well, and found herself filling her days making pupulsas – a popular Salvadorian dish she remembers eagerly watching her grandmother make in El Salvador as a kid. Perhaps she craved a taste of childhood – Salvadorian cuisine is readily available in Maryland where El Salvador is one of the top countries of origin for immigrants, but is scarce in metro Detroit.

Pupalsas

Using her grandmother’s recipe, she started preparing pupulsas and other authentic Salvadorian food for church events. The food was very popular, in part because Salvadorian food is less prominent in southwest Detroit, yet culturally familiar to the Latin American immigrant population. As it often does when the food is good, her customers told their friends and her business grew. For two years now, Bendicion de Dios (God’s Blessing) has been regularly catering events throughout metro Detroit.

Currently Bendicion de Dios gains new clients by the word of mouth of satisfied customers. When Cecilia graduates from ProsperUS Detroit’s small business training program early next year, hosted by community partner Congress of Communities, she’ll be well-equipped to roll out a marketing strategy.  ProsperUS’ ongoing business services assistance and network of providers will support her as she builds an online presence and opens Bendicion de Dios  up to all of us hungry for her specialty – fresh, authentic pupulsas!

Pasteles de pollo

Michelle Merritt, Program Coordinator of ProsperUS Detroit, expressed, “We ensure that we support our entrepreneurs by providing business services, post-graduation workshops and networking opportunities to create a community that helps them grow their business and keep them connected to their fellow entrepreneurs.” ProsperUS Detroit is different from many traditional entrepreneurship training programs in part because of its commitment to building a community among the entrepreneurs, business owners, and service providers involved in their programs. “I have seen others in the same business of selling food lose the will to continue. I too have had bad days where I thought perhaps it would be best to give up on this dream, but that feeling always passes. Here we are, giving it all we have,” said Cecilia around the topic of how she came to ProsperUS. Cecilia is ready to take her business to the next level, and with her energy and ProsperUS’ network and guidance she feels confident and eager to expand.

Detroit’s ever-expanding food scene is growing more and more diverse (see this Detroit Metro Times article or this Eater article) – and was described by the Washington Post as a food mecca –  is giving the city’s economy a major boost, not to mention revitalizing vacant properties and commercial corridors. Entrepreneurs like Cecilia bring a spirit and determination to contribute to their new home, and cities like Detroit need to attract newcomers like Cecilia and new business.

“All immigrants come here already with the mentality that they are coming for better opportunities for themselves and their family. On top of that, they’re coming to the land of opportunity,” Cecilia asserts. “I believe immigrants have every intention to be a contributing member of their community in whatever place they decide to take root.”

Her goals for the future? “Keep selling,” she says.  ProsperUS Detroit and Global Detroit are  looking forward to that future.

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