The Mission District is home to a diverse set of local food businesses, with owners from all over the world.
Shirly Ruiz, the Venezuelan owner of La Andina, moved to San Francisco in 2019 by herself. In Venezuela, Ruiz had a small graphic design business, but due to circumstances out of her control, she had to request asylum status in the United States in hopes of finding a life without violence.
“My country was and is still going through a complicated situation,” expressed Ruiz with a crack in her voice. “Ni modo; I had to search for other alternatives to a new life because my safety is a priority.”
Before starting her food business, La Andina, Ruiz worked at Boudin Bakery, at Biscoff Coffee Corner, and at Good Eggs warehouse. In 2021, while she worked at the warehouse, she realized there were no places nearby to get food for lunch. One day, Ruiz brought arepas for her coworkers to see if they would enjoy them. Arepas are a traditional Colombian and Venezuelan dish made from dough and stuffed with various fillings.
“It was a total success,” Ruiz shared with El Tecolote. “Even though a lot of people do not know Venezuelan cuisine in the Bay area, my coworkers loved them.”
Since the arepas were such a big hit, Ruiz continued to bring them to work and sell them to her coworkers. There came a point where she had two jobs — working at the warehouse and selling lunch to everyone. After six months, Ruiz decides to quit her warehouse job and fully dedicate herself to selling Venezuelan food.
“The two hardest things have been getting some public rejections regarding my Venezuelan food because of how unfamiliar they are with it or because I haven’t mastered the English language,” Ruiz said. “I’m very sensitive, but I’m also very resilient so I am consistently working to not let that get me down.”
Ruiz’s family has been her greatest motivation to keep up with La Andina and her life here in the U.S. Her parents visit from Venezuela from time to time and two years ago she brought her daughter to live with her.
“I am very grateful to everyone that has supported me starting my life here in San Francisco,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz has built up her clientele. She can be found most days in front of Casa Luca’s on 24th and Alabama streets, where she sells her delicious arepas, cachapas, tequenos, and empandas. If you have never tried Venezuelan food, Ruiz suggests trying cachapas, which are savory sweet corn pancakes with queso fresco inside.
“My dream is to grow in this country and to have my own restaurant one day.”