Sonia Gallegos’ earliest memory of food is of her grandmother selling groceries out of a small chest in Mexico. Gallegos’ mother also made a career in the food industry when she arrived in the United States. Inspired by her mother and grandmother, who spent their lives around food and a kitchen, Gallegos began working in a restaurant, and now possesses over 30 years of experience in the industry.
Now manager of Café del Sol, a small café at Southwest Key Headquarters, Gallegosproduces delicious and affordable food for the East Austin community. Café del Sol, a part of Southwest Key’s Social Enterprise initiative that helps diversify the non-profit’s sources of revenue while creating local jobs, began as a convenience that catered mainly to corporate staff. The café has since expanded to catering for East Austin College Prep and serving food to the general public. “I am proud to say that we are making a profit and thinking about opening up a second location on MLK Boulevard,” says Gallegos.
“I am just the facilitator in the kitchen but my team should be the highlight of the story,” she proudly adds. A central focus in her career has been to help Hispanic women overcome language barriers, teach them to execute and create recipes and to be proud of the food they present to customers.
Alma Alfaro is the kitchen supervisor at Café Del Sol, where she has worked for over three years. “Alma is my pride and joy. She approached this job as an opportunity to learn. Even with a language barrier, she has absorbed everything,” Gallegos says fondly. “My children go to EAPrep and I like cooking for them. We (in the kitchen) love to make healthy food for the students,” says Alfaro.
The employees at Café Del Sol are invested in the local community and view cooking healthy food for their children and the public as a responsibility. It is Gallegos’ dream to see all eight employees at Café del Sol be leaders in the kitchen and in the community. “In the Hispanic culture, food is our bond. It’s how we show love and care for one another. It’s how we can all be together in one room,” explains Gallegos.
Studies show that 40-50% of Latin American children are overweight. As a result, one of the biggest challenges for the staff is to prepare balanced, healthy meals while staying true to culinary traditions. “The staff are cooking traditional Latin food but with a healthy twist. The kids are enjoying it,” says Gallegos.
Guiding the staff has been a humbling experience for Gallegos. “I only treat them with the dignity and respect that they deserve,” she says.