Women at Work in San Francisco

Elizabeth and Aaron Scott of Metcalfe, Mississippi, acquired a tamale recipe from a Mexican immigrant in Texas. George Sarris arrived to Birmingham, Alabama, from Tsitalia, Greece, opened a seafood restaurant, and put red velvet cake on the menu.  Argentina Ortega, owner of La Sabrosita Bakery in Richmond, Virginia, left Sensuntepeque, El Salvador, in search of a better life. She sewed drapes for money while also attending baking classes and looking after her three sons.

Their stories are our stories. They are the stories of the Global South, told through food. Which is why we traveled to San Francisco to visit with female culinary entrepreneurs whose stories mirror the ones already in our archive.

Stories like Chiefo Chukwudebe’s. Daughter of a Nigerian-born father and a Texan mother, Chiefo’s mission is to celebrate the food and culture of West Africa. Southerners will recognize her ingredients. One of the dishes she makes is akara, black-eyed pea fritters served with warm sweet corn custard.

Fernay McPherson is a San Francisco native with deep ties to the South. In 2013, she launched a soul food truck, Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement. On her menu: gumbo, hot water cornbread, caramel cake, and sweet tea.

Alicia Villanueva, Olivia Velazquez, and Maria del Carmen Flores came to the United States in search of opportunity and to make better lives for their children. Their sheer determination and perseverance are inspiring. Their tamales, pupusas, and ceviche connect us all.

Our partner for this project is La Cocina, a non-profit organization in San Francisco that mentors low-income and immigrant women entrepreneurs to start and grow food businesses. All of the women featured here graduated from its program. They followed their dreams and never backed down. They are the Women at Work in San Francisco.

Interviews

Alicia Villanueva

Growing up in Mazatlan, Mexico, Alicia Villanueva learned to cook at the heels of her mother and grandmother. They taught her how to make tamales and instilled in her a great appreciation for Mayan culture.

Chiefo Chukwudebe

Daughter of a Nigeria-born father and a Texas-born mother, Chiefo Chukwudebe’s culinary influences span the globe.

Fernay McPherson

Fernay McPherson grew up in San Francisco’s Fillmore District, a neighborhood populated by immigrants and African Americans who left the Deep South during the Great Migration.

Maria del Carmen Flores

The oldest of 12 children, Maria Carmen Del Flores has been selling food on the street since she was 6 years old.

Olivia Velazquez

A native of Mexico City, Olivia Velazquez, wife and mother of 3, had no intention of coming to the United States until her son required medical attention.