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La Cocina De Esperanza began from humble beginnings

By Adriana Fehrs

La Cocina De Esperanza, a tribally owned Mexican/American Restaurant in Ronan, opened its doors on January 6. The restaurant is now open from seven a.m. to seven p.m. Monday through Friday and is located on Fourth Avenue. Ofelia Folsom, operator/cook, started out selling tamales to workers over at CSKT Natural Resources Department and grew the business from there. (Adriana Fehrs photo)La Cocina De Esperanza, a tribally owned Mexican/American Restaurant in Ronan, opened its doors on January 6. The restaurant is now open from seven a.m. to seven p.m. Monday through Friday and is located on Fourth Avenue. Ofelia Folsom, operator/cook, started out selling tamales to workers over at CSKT Natural Resources Department and grew the business from there. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

RONAN — As you walk up to 109 4th Avenue South West, the smell of fresh tortillas baking and simmering refried beans fills the air. Upon entering the small Mexican-American restaurant you can see the cooks in the kitchen, you feel the heat from the ovens and you smell the fresh peppers and chili spices. Ofelia Folsom’s popular tamales have found a home at La Cocina De Esperanza, the ‘Kitchen of Hope’, and recently opened their doors. Ofelia and her husband Rich Folsom, tribal member and owner of La Cocina, began the journey of starting up the restaurant with a grant from S&K Holding Company.

Ofelia and Rich Folsom met while they were neighbors in California. Ofelia was born in Angao, Michoacán, and moved to San Diego, where she met Rich Folsom, who hailed from the Flathead Indian Reservation. More than fifteen years ago they traveled back to the area. Rich Folsom went to work for the Natural Resources Department for CSKT and Ofelia went to work for the Jore Corporation of Ronan.

Ofelia Folsom, operator/cook of La Cocina De Esperanza and wife of owner Rich Folsom, smiles and stands outside of the kitchen where she makes all her meals from scratch, even the tortillas. (Adriana Fehrs photo)Ofelia Folsom, operator/cook of La Cocina De Esperanza and wife of owner Rich Folsom, smiles and stands outside of the kitchen where she makes all her meals from scratch, even the tortillas. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

Ofelia had sold her hand-made-from scratch tamales at the farmer market for about four years, while she also delivered her food to workers at the Natural Resources Department, Tribal Housing, and the CSKT complex almost on a daily basis. She was famous for her tamales. She says, “Everyone seemed to like my tamales, and eventually the demand became too high for me to keep up.”

Nahshun Folsom, Rich and Ofelia’s son, helped his parents obtain a small business grant from S&K holding company. Nahshun says, “Steve Clairmont was very helpful during the whole process. He help me write out the grant and get all the paper work in order.” In July of 2013, the grant was approved and the Folsoms had their capitol.

Ofelia Folsom, operator/cook, stands with her son Nahshun Folsom, manager/cook, in the kitchen of La Cocina De Esperanza – a newly opened tribal restaurant in Ronan. (Adriana Fehrs photo)Ofelia Folsom, operator/cook, stands with her son Nahshun Folsom, manager/cook, in the kitchen of La Cocina De Esperanza – a newly opened tribal restaurant in Ronan. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

The grant enabled the Folsoms to buy a taco cart. Ofelia says, “We need a way to deliver more food to the community. This helped us grow more as a business, so then we could find a location for people to come and sit down to enjoy my food.”

The Mission Mountain Food Enterprise of Ronan sat empty for four years, and Ofelia saw the space and kitchen as an opportunity for a business. She worked out a lease agreement with the owners. They were able to put in windows, so people could enjoy the sun while they eat.

Rich and Ofelia went through all of the necessary licensing before opening their doors. Ofelia says she made sure to get a license from the state to cook food, and she even has her safe food-handling license, and an Indian Preference Certificate from CSKT. “I wanted to make sure to do everything right.”

La Cocina was then able to officially opened their business on January 6.

In La Cocina De Esperanza, you can see hung on the wall the date the restaurant open, the first dollar made, and an Indian Preference Certificate. The restaurant is owned by tribal member Rich Folsom. (Adriana Fehrs photo)In La Cocina De Esperanza, you can see hung on the wall the date the restaurant open, the first dollar made, and an Indian Preference Certificate. The restaurant is owned by tribal member Rich Folsom. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

The restaurant currently has four employees from the fatherhood program. They help cook, clean, and serve customers. Nahshun says, “They are a really big help. We really appreciate that we are able to have them here.”

Rich maintains a laissez faire type management style while Ofelia and Nahshun operate the business.

The decorum of the business is not typical of a Mexican-style restaurant. On the walls they have hung several Native American art pieces, with warm coloring through out. Ofelia says, “I like it, it’s comfortable, I want people to feel like they are at home, and like they are family.”

The restaurant serves Michoacán type dishes, but also serves American food and desserts. Ofelia says, “We want people to enjoy our food, that is why we cook a lot of different dishes. If you want something that isn’t on the menu, we can still make it for you. Ofelia gets into the kitchen around 4 a.m. to start cooking everything from scratch, even including the tortillas.

Ofelia Folsom, operator/cook of La Cocina De Esperanza, prepares to make her famous tamales from scratch. (Adriana Fehrs photo)Ofelia Folsom, operator/cook of La Cocina De Esperanza, prepares to make her famous tamales from scratch. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

The restaurant is open Monday through Friday, seven a.m. to seven p.m. They cater for private parties and can deliver in-town. They are located at 109 4th Avenue South West, at the intersection of 4th Avenue and Main Street.

For the future, Ofelia says she just wants to continue cooking great food. They hope to add more items to their menu: Huckleberry smoothies during the summer and taco bowls. They also hope to open their restaurant on Saturdays by the end of March.

For more information on La Cocina De Esperanza call (406) 676-4741.

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