by Chamidae Ford
There is no denying that COVID-19 hit the restaurant industry hard, forcing businesses to lay off countless employees who made their livelihood by serving, cooking, and working in restaurants. Alex Dorros, who co-founded the new South American restaurant Siembra with his mother, Sandra Marulanda, is one of the many who lost their job back in March.
Owning a restaurant was never what Dorros had envisioned for himself, but the pandemic created a unique opportunity, and he seized it. After he lost both his restaurant jobs and his mother left her teaching job, the duo realized Siembra was a venture they could work toward together.
“We weren’t really thinking about being business partners from the beginning,” Dorros said. “But then, as she lost her job and we were sitting there cooking and testing recipes, we were like, ‘Why don’t we just do this together?’”
Although opening a restaurant in the pandemic has been a daunting and challenging task, Dorros has found joy in the process.
“It’s been exhausting, but incredibly rewarding at the same time,” he said. “I feel like this is a time when we all feel really disconnected and isolated, and this was a way to … strengthen … our community of people we already knew but also broaden and deepen our community as well.”
The idea of community is a recurring theme in Dorros’ life and has ultimately been the driving force of the decisions he has made: from the type of cuisine Siembra would serve, where the food would be sourced, and even the name “Siembra” itself, which means “to sow seeds.” The name stems from the idea that, just as roots serve as connectors, food connects individuals and community. Dorros began connecting with people in the kitchen during his childhood.
“I grew up in a family that always really loved to cook. That’s really where that passion just came from, [cooking with] my abuela and cooking with my mom.”
This way of communing with others through food followed him throughout his travels in South America. These travels would become the cornerstone of what Siembra is and what food it serves.
“I travel literally with a bag of spices to cook for people and a knife. You know, so I’m just always ready to go and cook,” Dorros said.
During his time in Bogotá, Colombia, he took part in his first-ever restaurant pop-up cooking for his roommates and cooking with them for the community. “The pop-ups started as a way to host friends and build community. We wanted to share flavors that were new to a lot of people down there,” he said.
At these pop-ups, Dorros would serve dishes that reminded him of home, staple dishes like tacos and udon noodles, adapting the recipes with the fresh local ingredients he could get from the local farmers’ market. At times these pop-ups would serve up to 20 people.
Although Dorros and his mother are Colombian by heritage, not Peruvian, they were heavily inspired by Peruvian dishes they experienced in their individual travels and are dedicated to creating authentic dishes that accurately represent the culture.
“Peruvian food is a celebration of diverse ingredients like unique herbs, spices, and peppers. It also tells the story of immigration and preservation with Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, and Indigenous cooking blending together,” Dorros said.
Dorros wanted to create a space in Seattle to share the dishes that mean so much to him. Dorros is native to Seattle, but his travels opened his eyes to the lack of South American food in the area.
“Growing up in Seattle, sometimes it felt like our culture was invisible. It was so important to have a gathering space where we felt at home and had representation. Our friend Luam’s restaurant, Mojito, was that to my family, always full of music and life.”
Dorros wants Siembra to also be a place where People of Color can connect and be supported.
“Siembra is about more than putting food on people’s plates. It’s also about showing the world that South American food and culture are worth celebrating and have a place here in Seattle.”
Siembra partners with local farmers to source as much of their products as possible. Although certain ingredients like aji amarillo, panca pepper pastes, and organic cacao must be procured from Peru, Dorros has connected with many people through farmers’ markets and at the Seattle BIPOC Organic Farm to source ingredients used in the restaurant.
While Siembra is committed to boosting other BIPOC and Latinx people in the food industry, by sourcing their ingredients from them and allowing opportunities to showcase their products, Siembra also works to give back to the community.
Through Dorros’ connections with Tarik Abdullah, founder of Feed the People, Dorros learned of the community kitchen at Hillman City Collaboratory which provides drop-in meals for the houseless population. When the pandemic started, he began helping out individually by providing meals, and, as Siembra began to take shape, he continued to provide meals for the community. Siembra also partners with Feeding El Pueblo, a large food drive for the Latinx community in the Highline area dedicated to providing authentic food for those in need.
Currently, Siembra provides a weekly meal to be picked up on Fridays. At the beginning of each week they announce what dishes they will be serving. Customers have until Thursday evening of that week to buy a ticket online. When they place an order, they also can donate a meal to the Hillman City Collaboratory to help provide meals for the houseless community it serves.
Long-term plans for Siembra are not to open a sit-down restaurant but rather to find other outlets to allow people to come together. Dorros is looking to do pop-ups and farmers markets rather than be tied to one location.
“When I think about wanting to create physical spaces, I feel like there are other ways about doing that other than restaurants,” Dorros said.
Chamidae Ford is a recent journalism graduate of the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. Reach her on IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.
Featured image courtesy of Alex Dorros.
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