Jeannette Flores-Katz and her husband, Ken, opened the Salvadoran eatery and market, La Bodega at The Met in Adair Park—a little over a mile from the Atlanta BeltLine Westside Trail—in 2019, following the tremendous success of their downtown restaurant, Buenos Dias Café. La Bodega offers walk-up window service of Buenos Dias Café’s Latin-inspired cuisine with delicious vegan options, juices and smoothies for breakfast and lunch, all with fresh, natural ingredients and respect for the client and the environment. It also houses additional food service windows for pop-up restaurant partners, and eventually will expand to include a grocery store and cooking classes.
“We saw a need in the neighborhood for fresh food and ingredients,” shared Flores-Katz, who has always wanted to bring fresh produce to areas with limited access.
Originally from a very small town in El Salvador with just one corner market (or bodega), one butcher, one baker, Flores-Katz didn’t grow up with snacks or candy.
“Our snacks were fresh fruit or small pastries. I noticed a lot of that has gotten lost in most communities today. If you went to the baker at the right time, the pastries would be fresh out of the oven, and I wanted to recreate that.”
The cornerstone of her menu is the pupusa, a Salvadoran street food which Flores-Katz likens to pizza in New York. The thick corn cakes are filled with a variety of freshly prepared ingredients such as cheese, beans, or meat, and served with curtido, a tangy cabbage slaw that is then topped with red salsa.
“I never thought I’d open a pupuseria. It was Ken’s idea,” explained the warm, energetic woman who served in the Salvadoran army, worked in fashion, and ultimately met her husband while working in a San Francisco restaurant in her twenties. “I did not go to culinary school, but I have a palette that can mimic anything I eat. I learned from my grandma, and I make things the way she did. The smell is the same, but the taste is different because I add my own taste.”
If her menu began anchored in traditional Salvadoran dishes, other Latin cuisine, and family recipes from the Flores-Katz home—like her famous beet juice which she concocted while pregnant with her son over twenty years ago—it has been adapted to meet the tastes and dietary needs of her customers. For example, in El Salvador, a pupusa is traditionally made with pinto beans and cheese, but Flores-Katz changed them to black beans, added fresh spinach juice to her masa flour, and replaced the cheese with plantains to ensure that her vegan customers were getting optimal nutritional value. She’s applying this same principle of learning about what the community wants and needs as she expands to the Westside of Atlanta.
“We have been very well received here, with people coming in for breakfast or lunch from the neighborhood. People want fresh, healthy options. It is a bit educational. Some people are so surprised when we tell them how many vegetables are in our juices or that we use every single piece of the vegetable. Everything has a purpose. When you take something natural, it’s perfect. We shouldn’t change it. I always say, ‘just let them taste it!’”
During a business class with the West End Neighborhood Development, Flores-Katz met several neighbors who dreamed of opening a restaurant but didn’t know how to go about it. That is how she and her husband came up with idea of Food Entrepreneurs, providing a pop-up space for budding entrepreneurs to try out the business, test their products, and launch their brands.
“In these difficult times, we need to collaborate and find out how to help each other. Right now, we have four pop-ups. Each pop-up uses the window on a different evening, which also provides food diversity in the community. We’re trying to push them to grow and to learn how to take care of their business. We share with them our knowledge, like how to go through the bank process, create a business projection, launch on social media, or make to-go orders looks visually appealing, and we let them try it for a year.”
As the creative mind of the duo—her husband handles the numbers—Flores-Katz is always dreaming up new ways to innovate, educate, and empower. Since COVID hit, she has expanded the quantity of storefront windows available to use for the safety of staff, pop-ups and customers, introduced frozen pupusa orders and delivery service, dynamized her social media accounts, begun offering food service at the East Atlanta farmers market or special coffee and doggie treats at the nearby dog park, and even provided a space for her cooks—all single mothers—to bring their children when in a bind. Until things return to normal and she can resume her original concept of adding a food market, which will provide goods requested by the community, or offering cooking classes, she is flirting with the idea of launching a farmers market in The Met, as an outdoor space for the community to purchase fresh produce.
Eager to further establish herself within BeltLine neighborhoods, her next venture will bring her to Pittsburgh Yards, adjacent to the segment of the Atlanta BeltLine Southside Trail which is currently under construction.
“Since we don’t have the funding to buy a building, we have been looking for a developer or an organization that wants to work with the community and develop their projects together. The Pittsburgh Yards project is giving the opportunity to the community to be part of the development too. That makes a great combination with the BeltLine. This project goes beyond our dreams since it is a group of seven entrepreneurs that are working together as a team.
“It’s the perfect place to start a pupuseria and focus on the best Salvadoran street food, las pupusas. The BeltLine is a very diverse and cultural phenomenon, so it is time to introduce las pupusas to the BeltLine community. Whether they are exercising, commuting or hanging out, an accessible hand food will be there for them.”