For Selvin Oseguera, the owner of Greenwood’s Central American restaurant La Cabaña, steering his restaurant through the COVID-19 pandemic means taking care of his employees. Steering his family through it means making salmon tacos for his wife on Thursdays.
Elena and Selvin come from the same town in Honduras, but they met in Seattle when Selvin moved to the city at the age of 21. Over the years, Selvin worked at some of the city’s mainstays, such as Duke’s Seafood, Ray’s Boathouse, and Palisade, and he compares the current slowdown of sales to the seasonal nature of so many restaurants.
“It’s different,” he says from their normal steady business. “But overall, we are doing good.”
Open for takeout-only for months, La Cabaña saw sales drop by half in April. Revenue has since started to increase, and the restaurant has managed to keep its employees working during a slow period. It also recently resumed dine-in services in a limited capacity, as Seattle entered phase two of Washington’s “Safe Start” reopening plan. But the recent adjustments also mean Elena and Selvin work more themselves.
Without their normal days off, the two take turns cooking for each other on Thursday nights — Elena made beef stew with rice recently, because Selvin loves rice, and she’s been asking for salmon tacos. Without the luxury of a weekend, the meal serves as a respite from the work week. They open wine and enjoy ice cream with their 12-year-old afterwards.
The rest of the time, the pair eats at the restaurant, where they make comfort foods from all over Central America and which previously served as a gathering place for people from the region.
The pandemic brought on one notable change to what customers ordered: everyone wants pupusas. “I’m not sure why,” says Selvin of the stuffed, griddled corn discs, but they suddenly became a top seller for him, along with fried chicken. Normally, that honor goes to carne guisada, a meaty stew. “Maybe it’s easier to eat in the car,” he guesses. Since the restaurant only recently reopened the dining room, many customers who came for takeout paused to eat their meals in the parking lot before driving off.
Even as soups fell in popularity, though, Selvin kept almost all of the restaurant’s entire wide selection available — the menu features favorite dishes from countries whose cuisine few restaurants in the city serve: Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. Only the hilaches de carne, a Guatemalan shredded beef dish he compares to Cuban ropa vieja, got cut. “It takes too much time to make it in small quantities,” he says.
At one point, Selvin had issues finding Maseca — nixtamalized corn flour — in the 50-pound bags he prefers, but mostly the widespread trouble many people have had finding ingredients hasn’t affected him. He’s had more trouble finding them affordably — the cost of the ground beef he buys tripled, from $2 per pound to $6. Still, he kept menu prices the same. “I thought about changing them in January,” he says, when he gave his employees a raise. But now he’s glad he didn’t boost the prices and has no plans to start now. “People are not making money.”
And while that goes for his restaurant, too, the owners are making enough to pay expenses and their employees. “In these hard times,” Selvin says, “surviving is really good.”
- La Cabaña [Official]