While the American Dream can sometimes be a fuzzy concept, especially given the hardship that Jorge Sosa and Dora Saravia have endured, it’s hard to deny that their path fulfills it.
Jorge, who had moved from Mexico City in 1992, saved up enough through odd jobs to open a small grocery store in Springfield in 2001. Dora, who emigrated from El Salvador in 1989, met her future husband Jorge a few years later and they opened a small restaurant serving authentic Mexican food in Hadley.
While the restaurant only had four tables for patrons at first, word quickly spread and they didn’t have the capacity to keep up with the demand. They would name the restaurant Mi Tierra, meaning “my land”.
In 2010, they began producing their tortillas with real corn grown by local farmers in Hadley, Amherst, and Ashfield. Most tortillas you’ll find in the grocery store have a long list of ingredients, many of them preservatives, so that they can remain shelf-stable for months. Here’s an example of an ingredients list from a store-bought tortilla: corn masa flour, water, cellulose gum, propionic acid, benzoic acid, phosphoric acid, guar gum, amylase.
What separates Mi Tierra tortillas from the rest is their simplicity — the ingredients list reads: corn, water, lime. No preservatives, no genetically modified ingredients — nothing that you wouldn’t find in a traditional Mexican tortilla. Being authentic to the indigenous recipe they use for their tortillas is important to them. While Jorge admits it took customers a while to get used to the taste of a real tortilla, people have come to appreciate and prefer them.
In August 2013, Dora and Jorge purchased a $40,000 machine that rapidly accelerates the tortilla-making process. Instead of having to make every single tortilla by hand, this machine allowed them to exponentially increase their output to meet the demands of their wholesale customers, including UMass Dining and a host of local grocery stores.
Tragically, just two months later, the building complex which Mi Tierra was part of was destroyed by a fire started in the laundromat next door. Twelve small businesses, several of them also restaurants or markets serving foods from various cultures, were claimed in the flames. Jorge and Dora had invested everything into their restaurant, so it would have been understandable if they had thoughts of giving up and moving on.
However, just hours after the fire took place, they posted to their followers on Facebook that “we believe that there is an American Dream and (it) is possible. This tragedy only postpone ours”. That day, Jorge and Dora began the long planning process to rebuild and reclaim their dream.
While they lost everything in their restaurant to this fire, including the newly purchased tortilla machine, Mi Tierra’s story precipitated a groundswell of support from the local community to help them rebuild. Through donations and loans from people and organizations in the Pioneer Valley, the Mi Tierra restaurant would eventually rebuild in a new Hadley location.
Fast forward to 2015, and Mi Tierra is once again thriving. The rebuilding process was arduous and full of uncertainty, to be sure. Their reopening in November 2014 could have gone more smoothly as they worked out the kinks of reopening a restaurant with more than double the seats as the previous location — but they persevered.
Now, their tenacity is paying off and they don’t have to postpone the American Dream any longer.
Visit their website to see their menu: http://mitierrahadley.com
Visit their Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/mitierrahadleyMA
Entries are submitted by project staff and UMass students.