Alexandria, VA

Maria Carmen lost her job in early March, and had to make some tough choices in order to survive with a two-year-old daughter and a one-bedroom apartment in Arlandria that costs $1,400 a month in rent. She’s been able to make ends meet and stay afloat during the hardest months of the pandemic by selling tamales, pupusas, empanadas and tacos.

At first, the 33-year-old Carmen sold the food along Mount Vernon Avenue. Now, customers line up outside her apartment complex every morning. She now makes about $300 worth of food every day and wants to open her own restaurant.

“Cooking food is my passion, and I love that people love my food,” Carmen told ALXnow. “It’s hard to make progress because, but I’m getting more organized. I’m working my way up.”

Carmen worked for a number of years as a cook at a nearby El Salvadoran grocery store until she was laid off. She said that her grandmother taught her how to cook in El Salvador, and that her restaurant would be named after her daughter, Cynthia.

One of her customers is Billy Lovo, who became her friend and helped her set up a GoFundMe page to start her own restaurant. The $10,000 goal is reasonable, said Logo, who is a server at a Mexican restaurant in D.C., said that Carmen’s food is good.

“I first met her on the street and she was selling taquitos,” Lovo said. “They were pretty good, and that’s when I saw her and her daughter, and I told myself, ‘Ok, you’ve got to take action.'”

Lovo added, “The way that she cooks the food is so good and people know about her all over the neighborhood.”

Staff photos by James Cullum

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