Alumna Paula Tejeda: Community builder, empanada aficionada
On a bright Saturday morning in San Francisco, Mills alumna and small business owner Paula Tejeda packs the trunk of her car with several boxes of fresh empanadas to take to her shop, Chile Lindo, located in the historic Mission District.
Tejeda began her business making and selling the “gourmet and artisanal” empanadas in 1995. Having lived in the Mission District in the 1980s, Tejeda could not think of a better community to share her Chilean focused cuisine and culture with.
“Chile Lindo is not just about baking empanadas and not just about Chilean food; [Chile Lindo] represents Chilean culture in San Francisco and creates a bridge between Chile and California,” Tejeda said.
Chile Lindo and Tejeda, like many small businesses and small business owners in the Mission District, have had their fair share of obstacles on their paths to success. When Tejeda started at Mills in 2003 after almost eight years of running Chile Lindo full-time, her decision to sublet the business almost caused it to go under completely. Despite the complications of returning to school, Tejeda reflects on her years at Mills as a very positive time of expanding her knowledge about her passions of writing and the Spanish Language.
After returning post graduation to Chile Lindo in 2009, Tejeda found herself in a “five year fight” as she called it, as she dealt with a divorce, an eviction and working two jobs just to make ends meet. Despite having to close the storefront for a year while Chile Lindo recovered from its many losses and challenges, Tejeda continued to fight on by joining the “Street Food Movement” in 2009.
During her time in the “Street Food Movement,” Tejeda would walk the streets of the Mission District selling empanadas from a basket and in the process found her diverse following of customers and supporters.
“When you know you make something that contributes positively to a community, it causes you to become very willing to jump through all these hoops to keep your business alive,” Tejeda said.
Chile Lindo is also supported by its loyal and hardworking employees, including Ramóne Reyna. When Tejeda is not able to come to the shop in person, Reyna is the one she counts on to keep the business going day to day.
“I love and enjoy everything about working at Chile Lindo, from working with and interacting with the people and getting to work alongside Paula [Tejeda],” Reyna said.
Tejeda has seen countless businesses go out as quick as they arrived in this district since the rise in cost of living, consequential change in demographic, and the great changes gentrification has brought. She admits that owning a business in the Mission can present its challenges, with the public’s assumption of the district’s danger and growing rates of homelessness. Despite these opposing factors, she will still often find community amongst the homeless population and continues to have them as a part of her regular customer base despite their circumstances.
“New and old Mission, every age, and every cultural background, Chile Lindo has the most diverse customer base in the city!” Tejeda said.
One of those community members and loyal customers to Chile Lindo, who asked to remain unnamed, states, “They are thriving here! [Tejeda] really, truly thrives in this district.”
The future looks bright for Chile Lindo. Tejeda excitedly shares her plans for a business expansion in opening a second storefront. Despite many past difficulties with joint business ventures, Tejeda speaks only positively of her new business partner, Jennifer Rix. Tejeda believes that Rix will be a “game changer” in the opening of the second store front.
“Having someone who works for you and is willing to help you is great but having someone who is really willing to work with you and understands your direction and larger goals is so much more important,” Tejeda said.
More information on Chile Lindo can be found at, www.chilelindo.com. Tejeda welcomes newcomers and empanada lovers from all backgrounds to her storefront located at 2944 16th Street San Francisco, CA 94103, open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sat. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.