We Have to Keep Going

“I’ve never seen this in my lifetime. It has been shocking to see how this virus can affect our whole world.”

– Lucy De Leon, owner of Tortilleria y Tienda de Leon
Lucy and Fidela prepping food at Tortilleria y Tienda de Leon

Tortilleria y Tienda de Leon is a restaurant and market that has served up authentic Mexican food for decades and partners with school districts and organizations dedicated to feeding children, families and seniors. 

“At first I woke up every morning wondering how I am going to do this?” De Leon explains many of her 25 employees are single moms who depend on this job for their family’s livelihood.  

“They were my #1 priority, to keep them employed.”

De Leon, whose restaurant caters to retail and wholesale customers, immediately set to retool and refocus.  She found herself scrutinizing every cost and doing whatever it takes to accommodate customer requests as they emerge.  She is preparing pre-wrapped items and family platters for stores that sell her food to-go. She continues to fill orders for hundreds to thousands of tamales to school districts that are providing lunches while schools are closed.  And when one school district wanted to reward its employees for their extra work when so many others were out sick, Lucy and her staff prepared and delivered 100 combo plates and burritos to four different schools with just two hours notice.  

After laying off nearly a third of her staff immediately following the COVID-19 outbreak, De Leon has been able to hire everyone back thanks to both a pivot to take-out and access to emergency loans.  

“This is not easy and there is no simple solution. Many great businesses are in trouble through no fault of their own. But I come in every morning feeling so grateful, ready to work.  People tell me ‘I don’t know how you do it.’ My answer is – we have to, we have to keep going. It doesn’t do us any good to feel down.”

Indeed, in addition to supporting local community organizations through donations and maintaining her consistent wholesale supply, De Leon says she’s been busy adding new tamales to her already beloved menu of bean and cheese and chicken varieties. “We’re working on a new one. I have three boys and they taste test for me.” In addition, she’s encouraging customers looking for more meal flexibility to freeze her tamales. “The tamales store well, and I’m seeing higher demand for frozen tamales and prepared foods.”

Tortilleria y Tienda De Leon, 16223 NE Glisan Street, Portland OR  97230

This story is part of a series that explores how COVID-19 has shifted the landscape around how people in Oregon buy, use, and store food. As an agency committed to reducing the environmental impacts of food, we are grateful for the ongoing commitment of all who are doing the vital work to get food to our table and make sure little goes to waste during this unprecedented time. To learn more about how these partners are helping and how you can help, click here

Published by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

DEQ’s mission is to be a leader in restoring, maintaining and enhancing the quality of Oregon’s air, land and water.

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