If you come hungry to the Polanco family home, you’ll leave with your stomach full.
And there’s a good chance pupusas will be served.
The traditional Salvadoran dish consists of a handmade thick tortilla typically filled with beans, meat or cheese and served with curtido, a cabbage salad similar to coleslaw. It’s also the basis for a food truck and catering business, So Good Pupusas, founded by senior global studies major Cecilia Polanco.
At first, it was a fanciful idea between Polanco and her sisters. Their mother is an expert pupusa maker, and they thought they had a product they could sell. But Polanco saw it as something more.
Whenever she brought friends to her parents’ house, she found that something special, but unintentional, happened: She was able to share stories about her family and culture.
“Food is a really great way to do that, to bridge different groups of people, to encourage understanding — not just tolerance but also appreciation and celebration of the different ways we prepare food and eat food,” said Polanco, who is also pursuing a geography minor.
“It’s definitely a family endeavor,” she added. Her mother, sisters and aunt make the pupusas, her dad maintains the equipment, and her older sisters provide legal, insurance and tax help via their own business expertise.
“What I like to take away from that is I have a lot of cultural capital,” she said. “My sisters and my mom and dad really are at the heart of making it possible and teaching me things like working hard and dreaming big.”
Polanco wouldn’t call herself a businessperson or even a food person. Yet outside of class, she’s running a food truck business that mixes a Salvadoran staple with service and scholarship.
With the money earned from selling the homemade pupusas, Polanco hopes to create college scholarships for local undocumented high school students.
“The business is our means to do service,” said Polanco, a Morehead-Cain Scholar. “I want to invest in people the way I’ve been invested in.”
That program covered her tuition for four years, easing the financial burden on her parents and allowing her to spend more time developing So Good Pupusas during the summer.
Now, funding a scholarship through her business “is really what we want to focus on. I wanted to help more undocumented students because I think that they have it much harder when it comes to pursuing higher education.”
Polanco is happy with the progress the business has made. The goal isn’t to make a huge profit — if it can be sustainable enough to provide money for scholarships, she said she will be happy.
UNC students, organizations and departments were early supporters before So Good Pupusas even had a food truck, withstanding long lines in the Pit during Hispanic Heritage Month. But now that they have a food truck, freshly painted and fitted with a generator (“It was a fixer-upper when we got it”), Polanco hopes to debut it in the spring and bring pupusas to more people.
To have that authenticity, it’s got to be homemade, she advised. “That’s where you’re going to get good pupusas: when it’s made for the family.”
Follow So Good Pupusas on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/DurhamPupusasSoGood.
By Kristen Chavez ’13