The diners who visit Doña Julia restaurant are attracted by food’s excellent reputation, located in the Panamanian village of Monagrillo. Its owner, Julia Margarita Sandóval, with more than 35 years of experience in her kitchen, cooks stew and maize tortillas, traditional dishes in the local cuisine, which are praised by locals and tourists alike.
Julia Margarita received her first cooking lessons from her mother. From a young age the daughter helped her mother in the food stalls that they set up for village fairs and public parks; they would prepare the food and look after their customers, as well as sell some of their dishes on the street.
That is why it is not surprising that she decided to follow her footsteps to go visit fairs and sell food during local holidays. Azuero, Chorrera, San Juan in Chitré… any village that gave her the chance to sell her delicious dishes and earn enough to bring up her family.
Convinced that her progress also represented an opportunity for her neighbors, she traveled with 12 women from her village who helped her prepare and sell the food, with which they also obtained income to help their own families.
That small loan was the dosage my business needed when I didn’t even have a cup
15 years ago, Julia Margarita rented space to set up her own restaurant. It wasn’t easy, but the support of Microserfin, BBVA Microfinance Foundation’s institution in Panama, helped her make her dream come true. “That small loan was the dosage my business needed when I didn’t even have a cup”, she recalls now.
Doña Julia restaurant has given her economic stability, enabled her to remain settled in Monagrillo and give work to 20 people in her community, 18 of whom are women. She left the kitchen to organize the business, which grows by the day.
The ten loans granted by the institution over the years have been used to improve the restaurant and she has rented premises next door to expand the business. Without a doubt, she is most proud of the fact that with her hard work she has brought up three children and seven grandchildren. “My greatest achievement has been to give them all an education. My eldest grandson is going to graduate in Banking & Finance”, she proudly explains.
She still dreams of doing more and opening another restaurant in the Azuero region, not only to serve meals but as an inheritance to leave her children. Her eldest daughter is already working with her, so we can be sure that the personal touch that Julia Margarita gives her tamales will continue down the generations.