Meet Salome: An aroma of cooking from San Mateo’s aspiring restaurateur

Monday morning started with a knock on Salome’s tin roof. Where there would normally be a door, there is a sheet separating the semi-outdoor living room from the street of San Mateo, Guatemala. The sheet seeks to keep the dogs out and the odors of cooking in. It fails, and our meeting is graced with wagging tails, thick smoke, and the aroma of beans cooking.

Salome pulls out plastic stools and instructs me to not slip on the mud. The tin roof, the sheet door, and the location of the house on the side of the hill did not shield Salome’s abode from the recent massive flooding, so one of her sons is shoveling mud out of the living area with a plastic toy as his mother and I converse. Nothing about Salome’s demeanor suggests the slightest sense of unease. She pulls out her notebook with a cartoon character on the cover and with pride tells me, “I have been selling so much that I filled this one out completely and need a new notebook!”

The accounting notebook is only one of the ways in which NamasteDirect helps clients visualize their progress. Salome cannot read or write; she points at her fingers and tells me she can count as much as her fingers will allow her. Her husband helps her record her sales and expenses every day, making her success a family matter. I leaf through the pages: “Tuesday – bought half a pound of lentils. Wednesday – sold six prepared meals.” Salome’s business model involves her preparing plates of food for lunch and selling it to locals for their own consumption. She makes all the food in her own kitchen every morning and sells it at a table near the market every afternoon. The leftover food becomes dinner for her own family – “although I really prefer selling all of it!,” she says with a smile.

May 13, 2010 was the date when Salome decided to pursue her cooking professionally. She set her aspirations on creating San Mateo’s version of a simplified catering service. Initially, she bought small amounts of raw materials, afraid that she would have too many leftovers and too many costs compared to her revenue. As rumor of her cooking skills spread and she moved her sales table to a more central location in the village, as opposed to selling food out of her own kitchen, her revenue grew and she began to think of bigger ways to use her microcredit loan and new profits.

With the encouragement of her business advisor, Domingo, she has begun to buy in large quantities: a pound of corn, a big sac of beans, more potatoes. She consumes 15 pounds of onions a week – and now is able to buy all 15 at once. Domingo encouraged her to mine cheaper markets, such as the bigger one in Antigua, for her ingredients. Salome speaks excitedly of the future: she would like to own a full service restaurant. She is thinking of the future – “I need to buy a table or two and some chairs.” Domingo highlights the other aspects of the restaurant experience. “You will need to think about service, utensils, and washing,” he suggests. She knows it is a much bigger endeavor than her current cooking service, but is confident that if she keeps up her good services, accounting, and relationships with other villagers in San Mateo, she can make the restaurant a reality.

Salome learned how to cook alongside her mother and hopes to teach her only daughter to do the same. She also has 8 sons, all of whom are proud of their mother’s initiative for learning. One of the sons remembers that Salome attended cooking lessons at a cooperative and loved talking to the other women. She comments that “it was six months of training and now I try to copy the recipes and the process, as well as make my own. I try to learn everything I can.”

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