As in so many cultures, for Latinos, the family kitchen is a sacred place where traditions are passed down from generation to generation. Since 1957, when Avelino Maldonado started La Criolla by selling spice blends out of the trunk of his car, the company has offered a taste of home for Chicago’s Latino families.
Maria and Jose Chaparro took over La Criolla Foods at its original location in the West Loop in 2016. They bought the company from founder Avelino Maldonado’s wife Carmen.
“I was born and raised in Chicago, so my mother used to use La Criolla brand,” said Maria Chaparro. “So I feel like it’s a legacy in that part because we’re bringing it on to our children and our grandchildren.”
“We have the sazón and the adobo, that was a creation from Avelino,” said co-owner Jose Chaparro. “That is like a multi seasoning — you know, you can put it on everything. All the Latinos, that is the main thing they use to put flavor to every dish.”
In 2018, the Chaparros moved La Criolla to a larger facility in south suburban Alsip. Since then, they’ve been working on plans to expand and promote their brand to a new generation via social media.
La Criolla’s finance and operations manager Raul Rosas says more time at home in the last year has generated a spike in interest in cooking.
“It’s been a resurgence of having to experiment again with your cooking and having to remember those recipes that your mom has made or had to get on a Zoom call or Google Meet, or Facetime, to say, ‘Hey, am I doing this correctly? Am I picking the right spices by adding the right pinch?’ Because it’s always a pinch, right?”
Getting just the right flavor to spark that memory of home cooking is La Criolla’s business.
“What we hope is when they open it, they’ll smell home and remember their mother, their grandmother cooking, whatever it may be. For me, it’s the carne molida en chile verde that my mom makes,” said Rosas.
Executive chef Roberto Perez is in charge of bringing those flavors to life through recipes and photos on social media.
“So what that means right now is that I’m doing some food testing with some spices, testing them out, checking them out in different particular recipes and seeing if any adjustments need to be made,” said Perez. “A lot of the ingredients are inspired by Caribbean cooking.”
As they continue to expand their offerings, Rosas says another big move for La Criolla is in the works.
“What we’re doing in our plans for this near future is positioning it for an equity crowdfunding campaign where the community is able to invest and be part of the growth,” he said.
And as Chicago’s Latino population continues to grow, Rosas says the company is positioned to grow along with it.
“The Latino market is, I think it’s been overlooked for quite some time,” said Rosas. “It’s a sleeping giant, and it’s powerful. There is power in your household as a Latino household.”