Mothers-turned-entrepreneurs launch culinary collective

From left to right: Félicité Tambaud, Maria Vargas, Cristal Alba & Margarita Romero (Las Alas Abiertas Collective) stand outside of Su Casa for a group photo. ( The Gate/Gloria Talamantes)

From left to right: Félicité Tambaud, Maria Vargas, Cristal Alba & Margarita Romero (Las Alas Abiertas Collective) stand outside of Su Casa for a group photo. ( The Gate/Gloria Talamantes)

Alas Abiertas  “Open Wings,” is an all-women collective comprised of four members that get together to do food vending at farmers markets and take catering orders from customers through word of mouth.  What’s extremely special about this group is that their individual obstacles have brought them closer together. They are a group of women overcoming domestic-abusive relationships, homelessness and many other ills that life can sometimes bring. Together, they are empowering each other through food-vending and more.

“We are a group women with the desire move forward in life and to educate ourselves so that in the future we can empower other women too,” said Félicité Tambaud one of four co-founders of the group.

“We’ve been in tough circumstances and from these life crises, we have received strength and experience, and from this, we are creating something good–we are working on self-care,” said Margarita Romero.

The four women of Alas Abiertas, Tambaud, Margarita Romero, and Maria Vargas met at Su Casa. A Catholic organization, Su Casa serves Spanish-speaking homeless single mothers and their families who are escaping domestic violence and abusive situations. Su Casa allows them to stay up to one year.

Sitting on mismatched sofas inside Su Casa, we began our conversation on how the collective started.

Vargas and Tambaud participated in Plant Chicago’s farmer’s market back in 2015. Romero and Celia–once a mother at Su Casa, previously participated in the Farmer’s Market in early 2016.

Plant Chicago is a non-profit organization inside The Plant. The organization’s mission is to develop a closed-loop model of food production, energy conservation and the reuse of materials and waste while empowering people to make their cities healthier and more efficient.

In Nov. 2016, the three women decided to vend at the Saturday Plant Chicago market together and realized they should form a collective. Cristal Alba, Plant Chicago’s outreach associate, immediately met with the group every Monday at Su Casa to help.

The prolific message of Alas Abiertas is that they want to help others. “We are preparing ourselves to be more than just housewives. We are preparing to be businesswomen and very soon we will be strong enough to support others who want to undertake their route,” added Vargas.

“Cristal gave us the opportunity to continue vending at Plant Chicago markets and talked to us more about the market and the possibilities that could come from vending there,” said Romero.

Their goal this year is to stay consistent in vending at the Farmer’s Market and begin to use their newly acquired Mary’s Pence grant they received on March 25, 2017.

Mary’s Pence is an organization that funds different collaborations made by women that help to create social change in the Americas.

The grant funds projects that increase the voices and the economic security of women in their community. They plan to use the funds to focus on vending opportunities at Plant Chicago and become financially stable. “They gave it to us so that we can initiate a small business. Our goal is to take advantage of the opportunity to do something with it,” said Romero. “We will be using it to start at the market and then take it from there, ” added Tambaud. Alba adds that for the moment the grant will help them generate an hourly pay as well as figure out other ways where it can be incorporated. “We will know how to use it to pay hours and materials that are necessary,” she said.

This summer, the collective plans to focus on vending, take on opportunities, work on personal projects and for three of them–their children. “Sometimes we go out to clean houses or help out people, and we plan to continue fighting to accomplish our personal projects and getting together with our kids,” said Vargas.

Their kids are at the forefront of their business plan. “It’s a difficult barrier having to go to a warehouse job for 8 hours with my kids,” says Romero. “Being self-employed allows you to manage and be flexible with your time,” adds Vargas.

Tambaud says that they are all thankful for everyone and they all agree. “We are grateful to everyone who has supported us, the Back of the Yards community and organizations like The Port who have free after-school art programming for our kids and us to participate in, Su Casa and The Plant.” And they all agree when Tambaud continues by saying “The fact that we are mothers, homemakers does not prevent us from achieving our dreams; we can do it with strollers, diaper bags and all, take the first leap of faith in yourself.”