Meet the Sisters Bringing El Salvador to Seattle

Posted in Blog, Restaurant on Friday, March 01, 2024

Sisters Ana and Aminta have supported each other through it all. Now, their restaurant, serving favorites from their childhood in El Salvador, is a pillar for the Latin American community in Seattle.

Meet the Sisters Bringing El Salvador to Seattle

The bright and happy building on Roxbury Street, marked with a colorful mural, has been the home of the Salvadorean Bakery and Restaurant for nearly 30 years. Owned and operated by sisters Aminta Elgin and Ana Castro, the restaurant, serving delicious El Salvadorean cuisine and colorful cakes, is a fixture in the city of White Center. The sisters have created a thriving family business in the heart of the community.

Although their business is thriving now, their story didn’t have a happy beginning. Elgin, Castro, and their family faced a crucial turning point when civil war broke out in El Salvador in the late 1970s. The threat to their livelihoods and lives prompted Castro and her husband to make the difficult decision to leave their homeland. In 1980, they arrived in the United States, and within five years, Castro became a naturalized citizen. Subsequently, she embarked on bringing each family member to Seattle, starting with Elgin.

“Because of the war in El Salvador, we couldn’t even go to school,” said Elgin. “If I had to tell you the story of all the challenges we went through, it would take a long time. We had to get out.”

Balancing day jobs as surgical technicians with evening English classes, the sisters, driven by the scarcity of El Salvadorean eateries in the vicinity, reminisced about childhood family recipes. This nostalgia fueled their determination to open a bakery, marking the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey. At the time, theirs was the only Salvadorean- owned food business in Seattle.

“We used to have a bakery in El Salvador,” said Castro. “We worked lots of other jobs to survive, but in the back of my mind was always the bakery.”

When they opened the bakery in White Center in 1996, it gave the Latin American population of South Seattle a place that reminded them of home. There have been lean years and hardships along the way, but they continue to serve the community and share their heritage. The bakery makes dozens of different kinds of pastries, cookies, and sweets, sourced from all over Central America. Their specialty — tres leches cakes made with guava, oreos, or rum — is in so much demand that they set up a link on their website for customers to preorder. They also serve much more than just pastries and baked goods. The restaurant has a full menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner— filled with Salvadorean favorites like pupusas, tamales, and classic Salvadorean stews.

“It’s part of my culture,” said one guest when the Washington Grown crew visited the restaurant in Season 11. “I was born in El Salvador, and this place makes the food just like ‘over there.’ It feels like home when you come over here.”

El Salvador is a place of rich heritage and culture, where music, arts, and food combine to create a vibrant and lively place. Much of their music, art, and food centers around religious holidays, so the sisters in White Center offer festive traditional dishes for Holy Week, Day of the Dead, Christmas, and other important holidays.

Sharing that culture has been the sisters’ goal since the very beginning. Elgin and Castro, even as they were achieving their own American Dream, wanted others to join them in celebrating El Salvador.

“We have accomplished bringing the culture of El Salvador to Seattle — through our food,” said Elgin with a smile.