Rosario Sotelo discovered her love for food and cooking at a young age. Growing up in Guerrero, Mexico, she remembers watching her caretakers prepare authentic Mexican food for her family. Rosario fell in love with the way that food brought people together. She especially fell in love with el borrego, which translates to lamb in english, because it is a dish meant for celebration and bringing family together. Today, Rosario, along with her daughter, Rodnia, share the power of unity through food as the heart and soul of a small family owned restaurant in San Diego that specializes in el borrego.
Eighteen years ago, Rosario moved to San Diego to be reunited with her family. After moving to San Diego, however, Rosario realized that there was a lack of authentic Mexican food in her community, City Heights. Rosario Sotelo saw this as an opportunity to share her Mexican heritage and unite her community. She proposed to her family that they open their own store on the weekend to sell authentic Mexican food, specifically lamb, in the City Heights community. Rosario wanted to focus on lamb because there was no authentic Mexican style lamb available at the time and because lamb is a symbol of celebration and unity. Thus was the beginning of El Borrego.
El Borrego started from modest beginnings. “We begin selling lamb tacos on the weekends from 8am – 2pm on a driveway under a tent with three folding tables. It was a great success. Just three months later we were buying 500-600 pounds of lamb and our customers were spreading the word of our authentic Mexican food to all of their friends and family.” In just three months El Borrego became a vital part of the community. “That’s when we decided to open El Borrego the Restaurant. We wanted to be able to continue sharing our heritage and expressing our gratitude for our community’s support by spreading our success to the community.”
Rosario and Rodnia aim to uplift and enrich their community with El Borrego. “We believe and have faith in City Heights. Fifteen years ago, not that many people came to City Heights, but today more and more people are coming to the neighborhood.” Therefore, Rosario and Rodnia continue to support City Heights growth through creating economic opportunities that will further boost the infrastructure of their community. If El Borrego thrives the community thrives and if the community thrives El Borrego thrives. This is evident in El Borrego’s growth. At first El Borrego was just a small tent on a driveaway, but as City Heights grew so did El Borrego. In such a short time period El Borrego became an essential community member that provides a place for people from all over to connect regardless of their background.
In addition to supporting the community’s infrastructure, Rosario and her family founded El Borrego to share their Mexican heritage with their community. Rosario and her daughter Rodnia seek to create an inclusive environment through celebrating the diversity within their community. This mission is exemplified in El Borrego’s all-encompassing menu which consist of authentic Mexican dishes for every palette such as barbacoa tacos, huitlacoche, squash blossom quesadillas, chilaquiles, lamb mixiotes, corn truffle, potato roll tacos, and more. With their diverse menu Rodnia and Rosario are able to highlight the inclusivity of Mexican Cuisine. “El Borrego is a Restaurant for everybody, meat lovers, vegans, vegetarians, picky-eaters. It is for people who enjoy food and for people who want to make a quick trip to mexico or to your grandma’s patio without leaving the states.” In creating an inclusive environment El Borrego is showcasing the diversity of City Heights while educating the community about how Mexican cuisine can cater to an array of palettes.
Moreover, Rodnia finds connecting people through food especially fulfilling because she experiences this connection first hand in her relationship with her husband.”My husband is Chaldean from Iraq, he was born in detroit, while I was born in Mexico. Our cultures are both very different, but even though we are so different, when we talk about food we are sharing the same experience together. We are able to sit down and eat together although we are leading different lives. To me food is an excuse to get together and share.” Rodnia hopes to communicate these sentiments to their customers through El Borrego. She stated, “the best part of owning El Borrego is that we can teach a little bit of our culture and traditions to the community. We are able to show our community that Mexican food and barbacoa is about bringing family together and passing down traditions.” Rodnia and Rosario are contributing to the diversity and unity from which innovation and growth stem to further enrich their community.
Rodnia and her mother Rosario are small business owners and the first generation of their family to come to America. They have been here for many years and seek to enrich the community that they call home economically and culturally. “We are working very hard in this country to be we where we are. We believe in the community. We want this community to grow, and in order to grow, we are working hard to contribute to the economy. We, as Business owners, have to support our community and be a part of it. That is our legacy to the next generation, in our family and in our community.” Even now, Rodnia and Rosario are still exploring new ventures to further support the community. This summer they hope to open a large venue space at their restaurants to host celebrations that honor the precious moments of our lives. They want to continue to pass down the power of unity through food, while providing economic opportunities to the community
Food plays a vital role in our lives. Where it comes from, how we enjoy it, and how we acquire it connects all of us. Food blurs the borders which separate us. It is a symbol of unity, and here in America, because of immigrant communities, we are able to celebrate food from every culture. In America one culture does not define us, we are a cultural melting pot, with each individual culture as an ingredient blending together to create a unique dish. El Borrego is a just one beautiful ingredient in America. There are so many other stories that portray the resilience of immigrants, just like Rodnia and Rosario, who come together to contribute economically and culturally to the richness of our nation.
*interview has been edited for clarity and cohesiveness