Buies Creek, N.C.—Not that many years ago, Guatemalan immigrant Audelina Castro Lopez was working as a cook and laboring in the coffee fields of El Tumbador, San Marcos. The divorced mother of three sons came to the United States in 2005 not only to live near family in Harnett County, but to grab a piece of the American dream.
“I just wanted to work in the United States and make a better life for my sons,” she said in broken English.
Her first job in America required the diminutive Lopez to operate a food cart, “La Vera Cruzada,” on the streets of Lillington. What Lopez didn’t know was that a bigger market for her native cuisine would soon open up. It wasn’t long before a job at Campbell University became available and Lopez gave up her business to become a dish washer in the Food Services Department operated by ARAMARK.
“I didn’t mind,” she said. “I was certain that I would have the opportunity to move up in America.”
That opportunity soon presented itself in the form of a random comment card dropped into the Dining Hall’s suggestion box. Written by a student, the card expressed the desire to have authentic Mexican food as part of the cafeteria’s daily menu items. Food Services Director Larry Aldridge wasted no time in following up on the request. In fact, it was on his way back from the suggestion box, that Aldridge noticed Lopez eating her lunch with some other employees.
“I didn’t even know if she could cook,” he said, excitedly. “But I knew she spoke Spanish.”
Soon Aldridge and Lopez were working on a menu for a new food bar that would feature only authentic Mexican food cooked by a Hispanic. The menu was modeled after some of the country’s leading Mexican restaurants and included popular dishes such as Los Sopes, little Mexican pizzas loaded with black beans, cheese, meat, salsa and chilies; Pico de Gallo, a freshly chopped salsa made with cilantro; salsa verde, a green sauce of crushed tomatillos; chicken enchiladas; tacos; nachos; empanadas; frijoles; rice and beans.
Lopez’ Mexican food bar was an instant hit.
“From day one, it was so successful, we never looked back,” Aldridge said. “Her food has really taken off, not only with the students, but with the faculty, the staff—even the university president. Students come back for second and thirds.”
As a result of the bar’s success, Aldridge offered Lopez an even better position, supervisor of her own food concept bar in Shouse Cafeteria. Called “Jolé Mole,” the bar will be the equivalent of other food vendors, such as Papa John’s Pizza, that will be featured in the renovation of Shouse as a fast food take-out and student center. It should open in January when the renovation is completed.
“Audelina’s story has really evolved,” Aldridge said. “We’re very happy with her work and her loyalty. That’s why we are giving her more and more responsibility.”
Lopez is happy too.
“I’m a little nervous, but I like it very much,” she said. “I can have some work that I like and make some progress.”
Photo Copy: Audelina Castro Lopez fries up corn tortillas for authentic Mexican tacos at Campbell’s Marshbanks Cafeteria.