Mijas – Bringing Women Together To Create Delicious Mexican Food

Mijas kitchen managers (from left) Rosalva Cardenas and Eri Flor Lopez create authentic Mexican meals with the help of administrator Cristina Labra (right).


By Mary Ellen Psaltis

What good can come out of domestic violence? Women who are moving out of these complicated life situations are finding hope, learning skills and creating new lives by participating with Mijas.  The restaurant and catering business, here in Thurston County, is aptly named after the Spanish word of endearment to a female.

Mijas kitchen managers (from left) Rosalva Cardenas and Eri Flor Lopez create authentic Mexican meals with the help of administrator Cristina Labra (right).

Yes, there are women in our own neighborhoods who do not have to imagine what it is like to live with domestic violence and/or sexual abuse; they know first hand. Even when they find the courage and means to escape, the challenges ahead typically involve a lack of funds, skills and support. Addressing these concerns has been a priority for SafePlace, whose mission is to strive to put an end to sexual and domestic violence and advocate for personal and societal change through crisis intervention and education. SafePlace has been part of the Thurston County community for over thirty years (almost forty if you count the earlier Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter.) When SafePlace began trainings for women of Latino backgrounds, the seeds for Mijas were born.

In 2009, Safeplace offered Spanish advocacy training, which attracted a lively group of women, most of whom spoke Spanish. The meetings usually included a potluck and it was quickly noted that the food was exceptional. From these sessions, an idea arose to develop an actual business. Women who were coming out of abusive situations could use talents they already had (cooking) and learn how to expand these skills into operating a restaurant. Women would work side by side with other women, giving and receiving support, while gaining confidence.

The first dinner was held in downtown Olympia over two years ago in the space now occupied by Adesso (formerly occupied by Chica’s). It was a Saturday night, and the advertising was done primarily by word of mouth and the Internet. The hope was that one hundred people would show up. To the surprise and joy of Mijas, that night over two hundred meals were served with some people waiting and hour and a half to get in. What a success!

Vegetarian tamales from Mijas can be ordered in advance.

Mijas continues to evolve. Currently, Cristina Labra, who has a full time job with the State of Washington, is the administrator of Mijas. She is the one who answers their phone and responds to inquiries from their website. Monthly dinners now take place at The Governor Hotel on Capitol Way on the third Saturday of each month (excluding December). Dinners have become increasingly popular so it’s best to make a reservation. The time is from 3 – 9 pm. Because it is just that single day per month, all the food is prepared that day with the expectation that it will run out.

The food is prepared by women in the program, but your server will likely be a volunteer from the community. Demand for their food has allowed Mijas to run a catering business, which can be scheduled for almost any sized group. The kitchen is managed by Eri Flor Lopez and Rosalva Cardenas, both of whom work at other jobs when they are not involved in their responsibilities at Mijas.

What has Mijas done for women? “I feel more confidence. I feel good – different than before. I like to do good for people. I like to cook Mexican food,” explains Cardenas.

Mijas dice vegetables for their restaurant which is open on the third Saturday of each month at The Governor Hotel in downtown Olympia.

All three women are pleased to be part of something that has personal meaning and provides a way to support other women and their children in this community. Labra has expressed an idea that forming a day care operation might be another venue for women to learn business skills.

What started as a dream and a few dollars has flowered into a vibrant project our community can be proud of and support. Over the past three years, over 60 women have participated with Mijas. When you go, your Mexican flavored meal will include various choices of appetizers, main dishes and desserts. There are also considerations made for those with food sensitivities and/or allergies. Having a little party of your own? You can call ahead and order tamales – vegetarian or with meat. Tamales qualify as comfort food – corn masa (dough) mixed with various fillings, wrapped in cornhusks and steamed. They can also be made vegan. Tamales make a fine snack or contribute to a bigger meal. You can use their catering for any occasion. Those meals are also Mexican flavored, as the chefs like to “stay true to what we know.”

Make your reservations – bring your friends.

Want to help or volunteer? Mijas could use commercial-sized pots, help with web design and social media, and a van or truck for their catering business.

Now for a Mexican food tip:

Grocery stores have shelves of tortillas available in a huge variety: flour, corn, blended, green ones, red ones, low carb, etc., BUT  – my favorite tortillas come from the refrigerated section at Costco. It’s a double bag of flour tortillas that are raw. They cook quickly on a warm skillet and are far and away the closest taste, texture and smell of the real things. Eat them plain, with butter or cheese, stuff life a burrito, oh… so many possibilities.

Eat Well – Be Well

If you or someone you know needs help:

SafePlace – 24-Hour Sexual and Domestic Violence HelpLine – 360-754-6300

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