WOC in Food: Paola Guasp
Amara Kitchen was founded in 2013 by Paola Guasp + Corrina Becker-Wayman.
In 2018, Paola took over Amara Kitchen as full owner. We sat down to talk about her journey as a Latina business owner.
What compelled you to open Amara Kitchen?
I love being healthy more than the actual process of cooking! I was on birth control for 5 years and suddenly, my hair started falling out. When you’re in your early 20’s, your hair shouldn’t be falling out!
We live in a toxic city, the smog and pollution are so bad! You have to counter balance the things you can control and for me, that’s staying healthy.
So, I got off birth control and slowly started changing my diet. I worked as a live in nanny for a celebrity for a while and it opened my eyes to the power of cooking with superfoods. They gave me a grocery budget for the week, so I was able to experiment with different superfoods and recipes, foods I may not have been exposed to had I not been working as a nanny with that type of access or funds. During this time, I was able to save a lot of money because I wasn’t really paying rent, so I started a small catering company with the intent of eventually opening a cafe.
What are some of the issues if any that you’ve dealt with in opening your business?
I initially went through the small business association in Boyle Heights, but I didn’t get approved. Because I had been able to save money while working as a nanny, I was able to use those funds, along with the help of my family and business partner. With the success of our catering orders, I was able to fully pay back my family.
When we found this location, we were very lucky and opened Amara Kitchen as a turnkey business, meaning the previous owners had already purchased all permits needed to run a restaurant, we just needed to come up with our menu and concept.
Where do you pull inspiration for your recipes?
This year Amara has been undergoing a lot of change. I recently bought out my business partner, so I’ve had more control over the day to day decision making; I started taking over the menu. I pull my recipes from personal experience, I’ve always been interested in food trends, I’ve tried them all, paleo, vegan, keto, and I also incorporate my family recipes like our fresh Corn Humitas recipe. My motto in the kitchen is, create food that makes you feel good.
Recently, Amara Kitchen was one of many local businesses targeted on a boycott list. Did it affect your business in any way?
It was infuriating, because they never personally asked me about my business. They don’t know that I am Latina. They attacked us about our prices, but they also aren’t aware of our community efforts. We offer a pay what you can Come Together Community Bowl. Mostly students come and take advantage of that, but if a hungry person comes and needs to be fed, we will feed them, we want to be welcoming to everyone. One of the issues that boycott brought up was whether or not we accept WIC or EBT, that is not something we currently offer, but it is definitely something we are looking into because we don’t want anyone to feel like they aren’t welcome here. Another way we give back to the community is that we work in tangent with New Village Girls Academy, an all-girls charter high school. We donate food to their wellness day programming and also hire interns.
How do you stay healthy in running a business?
Yoga! I like to use class pass, it works very well with my busy schedule, especially my catering schedule. Aside from that, I try to be pretty active, I enjoy hiking and biking to work (sometimes!)
Do you have any advice or tips for WOC looking to open their own brick and mortar?
There are no rules! Be fearless, if you follow the rules, you won’t get far! I’m successful because I don’t like to follow rules. Just go for it, if you fail, just keep going until something else works. Recovering from what doesn’t work is what helps us learn. You don’t have to know all of the answers, just try and go for it!