A Resilient Salvadoran Restaurant in San Diego Shares Their Story & Pupusa Recipe

Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla

Nancy Alvarenga is fighting the coronavirus in more ways than one. The 29-year-old is a social worker student, patient coordinator for a hospital’s neurology department, and right now, she’s also a staff-worker at a Salvadoran food establishment in San Diego.

Alvarenga took the call to discuss the desolation of her father’s business Cuscatlan because, well, her father was busy manning the line himself. Ironically, the reason she went back to school instead of working at the restaurant was that she believes everyone should have a backup plan. Small Latinx businesses like Cuscatlan are tremendously afraid that their culinary plans for future generations will be crushed with the weight of the virus.

“[My dad’s] stressed and not sure how he’s going to survive. We are only making about 25% of what we usually make right now.” Alvarenga says with deep sadness.

Her father Ismael Alvarenga is no stranger to difficult circumstances. Before he began his path into the restaurant industry, Ismael fled El Salvador during the civil war in the 70s and initially worked for corporate America.

“My dad was so sad [working for them]. He couldn’t wait to leave. Then, when he did, he said they told him ‘I don’t think you’re going to make it.’”

The dream came alive in the early aughts. Sadly, like many businesses, the coronavirus has forced setbacks.

“We are down to one cook and one person handling food orders. [My dad] doesn’t know what to do. He’s had to cut hours and let employees go.” Alvarenga’s daughter tells Remezcla. “[My dad] is all about his employees. He can’t afford to pay all of them. He’s trying to give them as many hours as he can.”

She’s notably shaken and rightfully concerned for her father’s business—which, she shares, her father has poured his heart into. Cuscatlan is rooted in family.

“All recipes are made from my grandmother’s recipes that [my father] has tweaked. He is scared about his business failing. He doesn’t know what to do.”

For those nearby San Diego, the family wanted folks to know that they are still open Sunday through Friday 10am-8pm and will continue to fight to remain that way. Locals can order delivery or takeout and stay up to date via their social media.

For those near and far, the Alvarenga family is offering a taste of their kitchen, from their home to yours. Like the business’ history, the recipe will take some time to make but promises to be worthwhile.

Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
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“We’ve survived for 17 years now.” Ms. Alvarenga said. It is their hope, and ours, that the hearts of small business owners in our Latinx communities continue to endure. These businesses contain essential workers working within their ranks on the frontlines and behind the scenes. Their dreams and livelihoods are not just “backup plans” to our communities—they are a part of it.