Salvadorean Bakery owners and sisters Aminta Elgin and Ana Castro trace their passion for baking back to the brick oven their grandfather built in El Rosario de La Paz, El Salvador. Their grandmother ran a well-known bakery from the back of her house where they made everything from scratch — starting with the corn their grandfather grew.

“I learned from my grandma and my aunt how to make cookies and all the stuff that we make here,” Aminta said, who has been baking since she was 5 years old.

Their grandparents had the biggest oven in town, Ana recalled. “Christmas was like a festival in my grandmother’s house because everybody came to bake,” she said. “She lent the oven to everybody in the community. And that’s how we got involved.”

With baking so deeply ingrained in Ana and Aminta’s roots, it’s no wonder why Salvadorean Bakery has been a beloved institution in White Center for 24 years.

Aminta, the younger of the two sisters, oversees all things baking. Everything inside their bountiful display cases — from the fifteen flavors of tres leches cakes to the pastelitos de leche — Aminta created based on family recipes. 

As Aminta bakes in the back, you can find Ana busy in the front, chatting with and taking care of customers.

“You’re smart,” Ana said jokingly to Aminta. “You let me deal with all people, and I have to take all the heat!” 

The sisters have a way of perfectly balancing each other out. Ana has always been more careful, while Aminta tends to face things head on. Their differing appetites for risk mean that consensus isn’t always a given.

“Sometimes we have our things we don’t agree with,” Aminta said, putting her fists together like two butting heads. “But in the end we come together. Every time.”

As children, Aminta used to follow Ana wherever she went. And when Ana came to the United States in 1980, Aminta followed in 1985.

Starting in the late ‘70s, El Salvador underwent a long and brutal civil war that lasted over 12 years. “We were hard-working people in El Salvador,” Aminta said about her family. “And we wanted to do something, be somebody. We all started something, but we didn’t finish because of the war.” So Ana and her husband left for the United States to seek a better life for their family. 

Ana became a U.S. citizen in 1985 and soon brought her family one by one to Seattle. First Aminta and then their parents and the rest of their siblings.

By day, Ana and Aminta worked as surgical technicians, and by night took classes studying English, all while raising families. But baking was always in the back of Aminta’s mind. She and Ana would talk about the lack of El Salvadoran businesses in Seattle and how Aminta still remembered how to bake the family recipes they had enjoyed as children. They both knew they wanted something more. They wanted to finish what they started in El Salvador.

In 1996, Ana and Aminta took equity out of their homes and used their savings to open Salvadorean Bakery and Restaurant in White Center. However, it was difficult getting the restaurant and bakery up and running in a place with few El Salvadoran businesses. 

“At the beginning, it was really hard to make money because people didn’t know about El Salvador,” Aminta said.

They were constantly explaining items on their menu to their new customers. Ana said she used to get a sore throat from having to explain what El Salvadoran quesadillas are — which are vastly different (but equally as delicious) as the ubiquitous Mexican quesadilla. An El Salvadoran quesadilla is a sweet breakfast muffin usually served with coffee or hot chocolate as a popular street food. 

People even told Ana and Aminta to include more familiar Mexican dishes, like tacos and burritos, to their menu to appeal to more people. But they didn’t open Salvadorean Bakery to make Mexican food — they wanted to showcase El Salvadoran culture through their food. And that’s exactly what they’ve been doing for 24 years in White Center.

The White Center neighborhood — historically, a diverse area — has proven to be the perfect community for Salvadorean Bakery. Ana and Aminta feel like they’re one big family here, and have directly contributed to White Center’s growth from the beginning.

“We’ve been part of the transition of everything that has come to White Center, good and bad,” Ana said.

They chose to open the restaurant here because it had a larger population of El Salvadoran people, and it was a more affordable area for them. But as one of the Seattle area’s poorest neighborhoods, White Center had a stigma attached to it.

“People used to say, ‘You’re not going to succeed in White Center because it’s very quiet,’” Ana said. 

But Ana and Aminta attribute their success to the strong relationships they’ve cultivated within the community. “We have proved that it’s not what people thought about White Center,” Aminta said. “It’s about being part of the community and helping each other.”

Just like their grandparents lent out their oven to their community, Ana and Aminta take all the opportunities they can to give back to theirs.

Ana and Aminta donate cakes to the West Seattle Food Bank’s silent auction every year and offer discounts to nonprofits and local school events.

As a major soccer fan, Aminta has made a point to support local sports in Seattle and El Salvador. Aminta supports Highline and Chief Sealth High Schools’ soccer teams every season and sponsors kids soccer teams in El Salvador. She works with a friend in El Salvador to get the kids everything they need to play — from building fields and bathrooms to sending their families money for groceries during the pandemic.

“We share our success with the people, the community, and our family,” Ana said.

Through Salvadorean Bakery, Ana and Aminta have successfully created an avenue to share their culture, support their families, and give back to their community.

“Here we are,” Ana said. “Two women proving to the community, to the city of Seattle, to the state of Washington that with hope and effort, you can overcome any bad situation.”

Ana said she’s found her life’s purpose through Salvadorean Bakery. When she came to the U.S., all she wanted was to provide a better life for her family, and the bakery allowed her to do that.

As the pandemic charges on, Ana and Aminta hope they can keep Salvadorean Bakery open not just for themselves but for the community they love.

“We want to stay here. We want to be able to survive the pandemic,” Aminta said. “The community loves us, and they would miss us so much if we closed our doors. And we’re very grateful for our community because they’ve supported us a lot.”

“One of our dreams we hope we can achieve is to leave the legacy of Salvadorean Bakery here in White Center so people remember us,” Ana said. “Salvadorean Bakery is small, but a lot of the Salvadorean people who come here feel like they’re at home.”

It’s abundantly clear Ana and Aminta have put everything they have into their business. And if it’s up to them, Salvadorean Bakery isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

“We are very stubborn,” Aminta said with a laugh. “We don’t give up.”

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Intentionalist is your local guide to small businesses and the diverse people behind them. We believe that where you spend your money matters, and we’re sure glad you do too! Whether you identify as a localist, activist, or just a good neighbor, we make it easy for you to connect with, learn about, and support small businesses in your community through everyday decisions about where you eat, drink, and shop.

By Kristina Rivera

Federal Way

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