Oakland’s beloved kitchen, La Guerrera, moves to Swan’s Market

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Reyna Maldonado (left) and Ofelia Barajas (right), the mother-daughter co-founders of La Guerrera’s Kitchen. Credit: Cuisine of La Guerrera

“We are doing a lot better,” says Reyna Maldonado. La Guerrera’s Kitchen, the restaurant and catering business that Maldonado operates with her mother, Ofelia Barajas, has been through a lot in 2020. Unlike some businesses, she has emerged from the pandemic chaos somewhat triumphant. In March 2020, as the pandemic escalated, their Fruitvale location, celebrated by fans since opening in 2019, closed, only to be reborn in Old Oakland the same year. In between, there has been a very pandemic movement – a series of pop-ups at Fruitvale’s Ale Industries, which has helped keep the business afloat. Towards the end of this year, however, another change is coming, and that is another positive; La Guerrera’s will move again, joining the vendors of Swan’s Market. The opening will mark a milestone for the family business, placing it in its most visible place to date.

Mexico’s Guerrero region is home to both beaches and mountains, its cuisine is a unique blend of fresh seafood dishes and hearty, comforting meat dishes. The current menu at La Guerrera’s Kitchen is a living representation of this richness and variety, ranging from seviches to barbacoa plates. But that hasn’t always been the case – for years Barajas, as an immigrant from Mexico, worked as a street vendor, selling a limited selection of tamales in a cart in San Francisco.

“When my mother came to San Francisco in 1996, we lived in apartments that were shared with other people, and she worked a lot,” said Maldonado, who was six when his family arrived in the United States. “It took me a long time to get used to this new life.

Now tamales – under the Maiz Warrior brand, which signifies Barajas’ long-standing dedication to all things corn – are part of the restaurant, whose path has not been easy. Despite its growing clientele and ties to the community, Barajas’ entrepreneurial business was often sidelined by police during its days as a street vendor. After graduating from college, Maldonado decided to focus on growing his mother’s business and enrolled them both in La Cocina’s incubation program, which works with budding culinary entrepreneurs, many of whom. belong to historically under-represented groups. The mother and daughter jointly took courses in finance, marketing and operations, and were encouraged by the program to open a physical business.

“Being entrepreneurial is very natural for my mother, and I was able to bring the skills I learned in college,” said Maldonado. The move from the Mission District in San Francisco, where Barajas had worked for over 20 years, to the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland, was shrouded in a symbolism that does not escape Maldonado: “During our last years in the Mission , we had a hard time coping with gentrification, ”she said. “Oakland has given us that familiar community style, there is a lot of history there that we understand and respect.”

Barajas adds: “The Bay Area has changed. I have seen my neighbors leave our communities. But we hope to continue to create safe spaces for our community to enjoy food and laughter. ”

This coming fall, La Guerrera’s Kitchen will close its location in Old Oakland and move to Swan’s Market, in the closed space of Cosecha. Dominica Rice-Sisneros, the chef behind Cosecha and the recently opened Bombera in the Dimond neighborhood of Oakland, connected Maldonado and Barajas to the market, and, as their current lease in Old Oakland was short-lived, they decided to go there. to go.

“My grandparents used to grow all of their crops and sell them in the local market and we spent a lot of time there, so the market setting is really like how we grew up,” said Maldonado. “And work alongside and meet other women-owned and Latinx-owned businesses!” It’s exciting to be with them.

For Barajas, this is yet another symbol of stability: “Going from street vendors to brick and mortar sales means having a team, feeling secure in being an entrepreneur here in this country,” she said. .

Preparations for the relocation are underway, and with it will come more deals than La Guerrera has ever seen before. Since there is a larger kitchen in the new space, Maldonado talks about expanding the menu, while staying true to Guerrero’s cuisine. The dishes will remain deeply traditional in the region, with indigenous herbs and cultures such as yerba buena, epazote and bajio chili. The labor-intensive mole will remain on the menu, but new dishes will appear and the drink selection will expand.

“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been asked to sell burritos, but it’s important for us to stay true to our roots,” said Maldonado. “There’s a lot of interesting debate about where the burrito came from, but we just didn’t grow up eating burritos in Guerrero, which is why we don’t sell it. ”

Through all the changes, La Guerrera’s Kitchen has stuck with one more strength: being a family business. Maldonado’s father and sisters are also involved in the restaurant, while she takes care of the catering, which has picked up in recent months. “Working with my daughters and my family brought us all together,” Barajas said. “There is a lot of laughter in our team meetings and check-ins.

When it opens, The cuisine of La Guerrera will be at Swan market, 510 9th St. (at Washington Street), Oakland. Follow La Guerrera on Instagram for the latest specials and news on when its Swan’s Market opens.



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