Salena’s Cultivates a Culture of (Gluten Free) Care

Salena’s Mexican Restaurant

This month I am featuring Selena’s Mexican Restaurant owned by Kelly & Aaron Metras. I sat down with the long-time restauranteurs and discussed the ups and downs of being a woman-owned business and how they have made accessibility a focal point of everything they do at the restaurant.

Origins 

Salena’s Mexican Restaurant opened in 1998, in the Village Gate (located in Rochester’s Neighborhood of the Arts) in the space currently occupied by Polizzi’s. At the time the restaurant was named Maria’s Mexican Restaurant (Maria’s maintains a location in the town of Webster). Kelly Metras was hired in 1999 during the restaurant’s expansion and relocation to its current location. She met her now husband Aaron around the same time and after years of working in front of the house and learning just about every position; the couple was approached by the owner to consider buying the place. At the time, Kelly worked full-time as a Special education teacher at a Hillside day treatment program and Aaron was promoted to the role of General Manager. It took them no time at all to decide to take the owner up on the offer and purchase the establishment in 2011. 

Kelly & Aaron Metras

Those early years of restaurant management were challenging to say the least and despite the typical pitfalls and mistakes Kelly and Aarons’ combined experience as well as her cultivated network of woman-owned restauranteurs and business owners helped them to weather those early storms. 

A Culture of Care 

Kelly and Aaron have cultivated a culture of care with their staff. As Kelly recalls, “the previous owner as a human really took care of the staff” and that sense of camaraderie is a value that has lasted. She supports her staff in their endeavors outside of the restaurant and truly understands that restaurant work is not a forever career for everyone and that’s ok. Community care and support are intrinsic to who Kelly is as a business owner and that is seen in the networking community she co-founded a few years back called Bossy Roc. Bossy started with Kelly and her co-founder holding venting sessions as fellow special education teachers. As fate would have it both women bought restaurants in the same year and eventually held a happy hour for other women entrepreneurs. Fifteen women attended their first happy hour which greatly exceeded their expectations and has since grown into a networking group of over 500 local women entrepreneurs. Bossy’s mission is to unite women business owners through in-person & virtual networking events, educational workshops, and a private forum offering support, advice & resources.

Evolution of Gluten-Free 

Generally speaking, traditional Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine inherently lend itself to being gluten-free. Still, Kelly has admittedly not always been as familiar with the nuances of celiac disease and gluten-free contamination as she is now. Over the years she has taken her experiences learning from friends and family and applied this to her restaurant. Through these conversations, she has learned that cross-contamination is the biggest issue when it comes to dining out with celiac disease. As the restaurant’s menu has expanded there are more opportunities for cross-contamination. This fact along with the increased prevalence of celiac disease has made it a priority for Kelly and her team to replace items and ingredients that pose a potential risk. They have added a special button to their POS system and trained servers to ask detailed and specific questions when interacting with patrons. When it comes to gluten-free accessibility at Salena’s it begins with education. Kelly has been very intentional about training staff to be intentional when interacting with gluten-free customers and making sure they know if a person has celiac, is gluten intolerant or has a wheat allergy.

Says Kelly, “During COVID we had lots more time to make allergy-friendly menus, gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian and a soy-free menu and other changes that were long overdue”. Another change they made is taking peanut butter off the menu and also soybean oil. Their “hot-line” is completely gluten-free. Making instructions clear and consistent helps servers learn the menu and therefore communicate this to customers. 

Gluten-free patrons appreciate this due diligence and are grateful when an eatery’s staff knows the complexities of living gluten-free. Kelly and her team is always asking the question “How can we make everyone have as positive of an experience as possible.” In addition to all of this, they take feedback very seriously. Although feedback is not always delivered with kindness; Kelly understands that feedback is very important and that there’s always a level of truth in a comment. Instead of focusing on how the message is delivered Kelly asks her team “What can we make better from this piece of feedback?”

In fact, a member of the Gluten-Free Rochester community shared a recent experience where they go sick from eating at the restaurant. Kelly and the team immediately went into investigative mode and traced the source of contamination, found the issue, and made a process and systems change. This was then communicated to the customer. For anyone with celiac disease, eating out is always a risk no matter how careful a restaurant is and this type of due diligence goes a long way in reducing instances of potential cross-contamination. 

My Review 

What I appreciate most about Salena’s approach is that they are putting in the effort and doing the work. They don’t claim to be perfect but they are doing what it takes to make their food and restaurant gluten-free friendly and creating systems and processes that make their restaurant accessible to everyone. The local eateries that truly understand the context and nuance of what it means to be gluten-free are few and far between. Salena’s is taking their gluten-free friendliness to the next level with the opening of a dedicated gluten-free/allergen-friendly commissary/production kitchen. This kitchen is equipped with a dedicated gluten-free fryer and will process all the food for their soon-to-be-opened taquería. This quick service model will open in the town of Greece and feature a menu of Salena’s most popular items. The beauty of this new model is that the whole family will be able to eat whether they eat meat, are vegan, or have celiac disease.  

Loaded Nachos

During my visit, I was able to sample the Loaded Nachos which now, thanks to the commissary kitchen are completely gluten-free. I was hardly prepared for the massive platter of nachos that came out. This is definitely a dish for sharing and the nachos can be customized to be vegetarian or vegan. Another popular dish that is naturally gluten-free but can also be vegan is Stuffed Avocados. Filled with quinoa, black beans, and other proteins, this is Kelly’s favorite menu item. Salenas is putting in the work and doing what it takes to not only make their restaurant gluten-free friendly but keep it gluten-free friendly. 

If you go

Address: 302 North Goodman Street (Village Gate) (NOTA)

Hours: Tuesday through Thursday 12 PM – 9 PM, Friday & Saturday 12 PM – 10 PM & Sunday 12 PM – 8 PM 

Available for: Private books, events, and weddings 

Website: www.salenas.com  

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/salenasmexican/ 

Email: kellyometras@gmail.com 

For your first visit try: Loaded Nachos or Stuffed Avocado 

Fun Fact: Formerly known as Maria’s Mexican Restaurant and many of the recipes are also on Maria’s menu in the town of Webster.  

Colorful mural of an Owl in Salena’s event space
photo of white woman in glasses holding a drink with a green straw

Gluten-Free Friendly Restaurant: Petit Poutinerie

Introducing the Gluten-Free Friendly Restaurant Series

I’m excited to introduce our new feature: the Gluten-Free Friendly Restaurant series. Each month I will spotlight a local eatery/restaurant that is accessible to those living gluten-free. I want to connect you with eateries that do gluten-free the right way. The debut feature is Petit Poutinerie owned by Ronnie McClive and Lizzie Clapp. You may know of Petit Poutinerie through their prolifically popular food truck that has been a gold standard in Rochester’s food truck scene for over ten years. Lizzie and Ronnie had a hand in building legislation and advocacy for food trucks in Rochester and they have built a formidable brand and now a brick-and-mortar restaurant. They are all-around bad-a** women in business and are committed to equity, quality, and accessibility

A Poutine Origin 

Ronnie McClive met Liz Clapp in college after attending SUNY Brockport. Liz founded and operated the food truck Le Petit Poutine as a solo venture back in 2011/2012. Liz was inspired to start the truck and bring poutine to Rochester after many visits to Canada with her father who is French Canadian. Ronnie knew Liz from college and worked as a fill-in and supporter. Working well together Liz eventually asked her to join the business full-time as a co-owner and the rest as they say is history. They compliment each other well as friends and co-owners; playing off each other’s natural strengths and abilities. This mutual respect and camaraderie is apparent and well encapsulated throughout the fabric of Petit Poutinerie as a business and brand. Contrary to popular belief women can and do get along very well with each other in business. Ronnie and Liz were instrumental in getting early food truck laws established through advocacy and awareness efforts, one truck became two and after about a decade in business they have opened up their first brick-and-mortar fast-casual restaurant; Petit Poutinerie at 44 Elton Street on the corner of Elton Street and Atlantic Ave in Rochester’s Neighborhood of the Arts.  

Committed to Gluten-Free Inclusivity 

In the early days there were just three items on the menu; traditional poutine, vegetarian, and ginger soda. From the very beginning, Lizzie (the chef and recipe developer of the pair) made sure their gravy was gluten-free; testing out various brands of rice flour over the years. Liz has always been committed to sourcing the highest quality ingredients and making everything from scratch. Fries are cut fresh so the fryers have also always been gluten-free. These high standards weren’t lost on customers who would share with the ladies how grateful they were to patronize in many instances the only food truck with quality gluten-free options. As Ronnie shared this feedback with Liz, it became increasingly important to develop new recipes and items that were inherently gluten-free; think breading on chicken french and the batter for their delicious fried cheese curds. 

Unlike many chefs, Liz saw it not only as great for business but as a fun challenge to make sure that Petit’s menu is as inclusive as possible. She realized early on that gluten-free is not synonymous with taste-free and a mostly gluten-free menu can work if you put in the time and effort. Ronnie recognizes that “gluten-free recipe development does take extra R&D, time effort, and money” but thinking creatively and outside the box has really worked out well for the brand. According to Ronnie, doing it as a want to and not a need, makes the ideas and process flow easier and makes development fun. 

Education, Awareness & Training 

In addition to ingredients and recipes, the Petit team is equally as committed to education and training for themselves and their growing team. What many people don’t realize is that gluten-free is not just about alternatives to wheat, rye, and barley but equally as important is understanding hidden sources of gluten. These “hidden” sources are commonly found in processed foods, preservatives, binders, soy sauces, and dressings. Preparation can also be a hidden source of contamination. In mixed kitchens making sure that knives, cutting boards and other supplies are stored separately from one another is also important. Petit is dedicated to making sure that staff understands gluten, celiac disease, and how to avoid cross-contamination in their thoroughly cleaned kitchen and prep line. Everything is scratch made making sourcing and food safety easier to track and manage. When you are cooking whole real food standardization is easier to implement, streamline and maintain. All their breading, batter, and coatings are gluten-free. Additionally having gluten-free staff and cooks add to a high level of understanding and knowledge as well as creating a culture where asking questions (no matter how silly they may seem) is not only valued but encouraged.

For restaurants and executive chefs that want to make their menu more inclusive to the gluten-free community, Ronnie says making small simple changes works best. For example corn tortillas instead of flour, source a gluten-free bun for a grilled chicken sandwich, and if a dessert has a crumb topping play around with oats in place of flour. 

All of this accumulates to create a culture and a restaurant that is safe and friendly not just for those who live gluten-free but for those that are vegan and dairy-free as well. Unfortunately, the restaurant does fry with peanut oil so those with nut allergies are best served at another establishment. As Petit continues to grow, Liz and Ronnie are always looking for ways to make new dishes gluten-free and even adding a gluten-free dessert in the near future. In fact, they’ve launched a new vegan sandwich as you read this article a Vegan Friend Green Tomato BLT alongside the Buffalo Tofu sandwich. 

My Review 

Ironically even though I am a frequent patron of the restaurant as a creature of habit I’ve tended to stick to the same menu items.  So far I’ve tried to my delight their Buffalo Tofu Sandwich, Sloppy Joe Nachos,  Bacon Poutine, Fried Cheese Curds, and the Beet Walnut Salad. On this particular visit after my interview with Ronnie, they treated me to a tour of the kitchen where I was able to see the amazing cooks in action and then I tried the Chicken Cutlet Sandwich which can be served on a gluten-free ciabatta bun by Biscotti Brewers a local woman-owned gluten-free bakery. If you like a thick rustic style sandwich then you’ll like the cutlet. Battered to perfection and topped with arugula, lemon vinaigrette, goat cheese, and balsamic the sandwich will without a doubt fill you up. The gluten-free bun is sized in perfect proportion to the chicken cutlet but like most gluten-free buns after a few bites the lack of gluten protein, all the juices, and voracious biting; the bread begins to lose the battle, and switching to using a knife and fork the rest of the way allows you to fully finish getting through the sandwich. This is not an indictment on the quality of the bun — just par for the course when you are as used to gluten-free bread as I am. Gluten-free bread just doesn’t act like traditional bread and after a decade of living gluten-free, this is a fact of life. 

What I love even more than Petit Poutinerie’s food is their A+ service and staff. Every single team member I’ve ever interacted with goes above and beyond to make sure that you feel welcome and accommodated. They are knowledgeable, patient, kind, and passionate –treating you like family. I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with Zoe, Chris, and Sophie on a number of occasions and at this point, I’m on a first-name basis. This is a reflection of the style and personality of the restaurant’s owners — who have curated an ethos and mission to produce quality every single time with a smile. 

I’m elated to feature Petit Poutinerie as the first restaurant of this series and I exhort you to visit as soon as you can whether you are gluten-free, vegan, or just like good real food made locally by a bad-a
** women-led team. 

If you go

Address: 44 Elton Street (corner of Elton and Atlantic) (NOTA)

Hours: Wednesday through Saturday 11 AM – 9 PM or at the Brighton Farmers Market Every Sunday 

Available for: Private bookings, EVENTS & WEDDINGS 

Website: https://petitpoutinerie.com/ 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/petitpoutinerie/

EMAIL: ronnie@lepetitpoutine.com or elizabeth@lepetitpoutine.com For your first visit try: Poutine Flight, Fried Cheese Curds, and a Lemon Lavender Soda.

Reflections On Living with Fibromyalgia On Fibromyalgia Awareness Day

Dear Community,

Today is Wednesday May 12, 2021 and it also happens to be National Fibromyalgia Awareness Day.

It’s been 11 years since I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in the fall of 2010 and my life has never been the same.

11 years of ups and downs.

11 years of learning how to live a full life as a disabled person.

11 years of turning lemons into lemonade.

I have been fortunate to have met a cadre of amazing people over the past decade. Many of these experiences and people are because of my work and affiliation with the U.S Pain Foundation. I have the honor of being featured in the latest issues of U.S Pain’s quarterly magazine The Invisible Project. You can read more about my journey living with fibromyalgia here.

I’ve some so many priceless experiences and done so many wonderful things even while this illness changes the scope and trajectory of my life. I cant say that I would change a thing about any of the experiences that I have had. Every single moment, the highs and lows, and good days and the not so good days have placed me here in this moment.

What to learn more about fibromyalgia and what it’s like to live with it?

Click here to read about “The Spoon Theory” by Christine Miserandino

Click here to read articles I’ve written over on my original blog

About Fibromyalgia Awareness Day

Did you know that Fibromyalgia Awareness Day was started right here at the NFA in 1998? Since then millions of people have embraced May 12th as a day to share with others what it is like to live with fibromyalgia. Now, 20 years later, the National Fibromyalgia Association is still working hard to bring awareness across the globe through Awareness day.

About Calvin Eaton

(he/his/him) Calvin Eaton is a disabled community educator, content creator, and social entrepreneur, whose area of expertise includes antiracism, equity, justice, instructional design, and program development. In 2016 Mr. Eaton founded 540WMain, Inc. a virtual non-profit organization and antiracist education brand that promotes justice for all. The organization encourages individuals to broaden their horizons and learn more about multidisciplinary issues and topics that impact the world. 

Fibromyalgia & The Fear of Missing Out | Living with Fibromyalgia

A season six episode of the NBC comedy Brooklyn Nine Nine (I’m binge watching on Hulu) featured a scene that talked about the social construct of (FOMO) or “fear of missing out.” This was the first time I’ve really seen the term used in pop culture and it really got me thinking about fibromyalgia and missing out.

Oxford dictionary defines FOMO as:

a feeling of intense worry that an interesting or exciting event is happening somewhere else

The fear of missing out refers to the feeling or perception that others are having more fun, living better lives, or experiencing better things than you are. It involves a deep sense of envy and affects self-esteem. It is often exacerbated by social media sites like Instagram and Facebook where everyone is “stunting” and showing only the best most curated aspects of their lives and travels. All of this missing action can be anxiety inducing for everyone but especially those of us living with a chronic illness that already have internalized guilt and shame for not being as active as we once were.

Fibromyalgia and Missing Out

It is well known that living with fibromyaglia means missing out on a lot of life. It is this perpetual missing out that makes managing the illness so challenging. If one is not missing out in order to rest up so as to not miss out on a commitment coming up later; you are missing out because of a fibro flare or your body crashing because you over did it earlier in the day or in general. All of this coupled with a society and culture that tells us to do more and rest less or institutions that do not truly value vacation, sick time, or mental health wellness. We are all bombarded everyday in media and by our peers to push through, do more, and say yes; usually at the expense of mental and physical health. Most people cannot keep up. For those of us living with fibromyalgia and related conditions trying to keep up can be a matter of life and death.

Years ago in my fibromyalgia journey, I went through periods of experiencing intense feelings of guilt, anger and shame for not being able to do the things I wanted and keep up with social and career commitments. The constant push and pull of my body eventually became too much and led me to a nine-month long period of being bed bound from September 2012 – March 2013. I had to reshape my outlook and perspective in order to climb out of a dark psychological and painful physical place.

How I learned to minimize guilt from FOMO (and still learning)

  • Focusing on what I can do as opposed to what I cannot
  • I started blogging and writing poetry
  • I made real connections via online support groups where I could vent my frustrations but also took time to value the real life connections when I was able to make them.

Very Well Mind echos and expounds upon many of the strategies that have worked for me over the years:

  1. Change your focus. Rather than focusing on what you lack, try noticing what you have. This is easier said than done on social media, where we may be bombarded with images of things we do not have, but it can be done. Add more positive people to your feed; hide people who tend to brag too much or who are not supportive of you. You can change your feed to show you less of what triggers your FOMO and more of what makes you feel good about yourself. Work on identifying what may be sapping your joy online. Work to minimize these as you add more to your feed (and life) that makes you happy.
  2. Keep a journal. It is common to post on social media to keep a record of the fun things you do. However, you may find yourself noticing a little too much whether people are validating your experiences online. If this is the case, you may want to take some of your photos and memories offline and keep a personal journal of your best memories, either online or on paper. This can help you to shift your focus from public approval to private appreciation of the things that make your life great. This shift can sometimes help you to get out of the cycle of social media and FOMO.
  3. Seek out real connections. You may find yourself seeking greater connection when you are feeling depressed or anxious, and this is healthy. Feelings of loneliness or exclusion are actually our brain’s way of telling us that we need to seek out greater connections with others and increase our sense of belonging. Unfortunately, social media engagement is not always the way to accomplish this—you might be running from one bad situation right into an even worse one.

Living with fibromyalgia is journey not a destination

Of course, none of this is easy to do. As social media takes over more of our lives it can be easy to get sucked into the vortex of comparing ourselves to others. All the rest and care that is involved with living with fibromyalgia can be incredibly isolating. Trying to compare yourself to others makes is a recipe for disaster. Each of us manages the illness differently. Some are able to maintain a full-time job despite living with fibromyalgia; many others are not. What is important to keep in mind is that our individual talents and experiences are valuable and when we focus on our own abilities and less on what we cannot do and more on what we are doing, the fear and guilt of missing out lessens.

Living with fibromyalgia is journey not a destination and as long as we have to endure the challenges that this chronic illness brings into our lives there will always something that we are missing. Accepting this reality is not an admission of defeat but an act of strength and self-preservation.

golden tumeric milk

Golden Tumeric Drink | (Vegan + Anti-Inflammatory)

Tumeric has been a real game changer as I am in the process of taking a holistic approach for fibromyalgia management for the first time in ten years. I’m working on a more comprehensive post soon to share my process and experience but for now I am elated to share this tumeric-rich vegan “milk” drink that I am now taking every day before bed.

Tumeric has so many health benefits and anti-inflammatory properties that are a great aid to those like me living with chronic pain. This warming beverage is just one way you can incorporate more of it into your diet. I’ve adapted my version from the recipe found on the Minimalist Baker blog.

Golden Tumeric Drink adapted from the recipe found on Minimalist Baker 

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups full fat coconut milk (about one can)
  • ¾ cup almond milk 
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil 
  • 2 teaspoons ground tumeric 
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup 
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger 
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon 
  • pinch ground black pepper
  • (makes about 2 cups/ 16 ounces)

Preparation

  1. To a small saucepan, add coconut milk, almond milk, ground turmeric, ground ginger, cinnamon stick, coconut oil, black pepper, and maple syrup

  2. Whisk to combine and warm over medium heat. Heat until hot to the touch but not boiling – about 4 minutes – whisking frequently.
  3. Serve immediately, dividing between one 16 ounce mason jar
  4. Best when fresh, though leftovers can be stored covered in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.
  5. Reheat on the stovetop or microwave until hot.

cbd oil bottle and cannbis leaf in white background

What is CBD? Part I | Living with Fibromyalgia

If you follow me on Facebook then you know that it has been about one month since I started incorporating CBD into my daily life and management of fibromyalgia. My foray into CBD has not been a fly by night decision but has been in the works for many years. Recently an incident with my now former primary care physician was just the push I needed to finally move into the direction of using CBD; which up until now I had just been dragging my feet on.

Why the Delay

Not so much because I wasn’t convinced that CBD would work for me but more procrastination.  After finally finding a medication regimen that worked for me after many years of trial, error, and failure, I had been lulled into a comfortable rut of using a prescription cocktail that was more or less working and to be honest I just did not want to interrupt a regimen that worked.

“I just did not want to interrupt a regimen that worked”

Yet, deep down I knew that a change was on the horizon.  Cymbalta was one of those medications in my cocktail and even though it was ‘working”  so were the “the side effects; and these were less than ideal. Additionally, it has been a long term goal of mine to be as natural as possible as I approach the ten year mark of living with fibromyalgia. But before I can tell you all the ways CBD has helped me (even in a short amount of time) I have to tell you what CBD is. Fortunately, my friend sand partners at Endoca have done a great job articulating what is CBD.

What is CBD?

Read the rest here

About Endoca

Endoca is a cannabis production company and leader of organic cannabis products has a  mission to make CBD available globally and affordable without compromising on quality.

This post is sponsored on behalf of Endoca. The opinions expressed are my own. 

pile of trash on a sidewalk

20 Ways You Can Reduce Waste in Your Every Day Life

For me, this year has been all about sustainability. As a social entrepreneur sustainability has two very important definitions that I take to heart every single day:

  • The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level.
  • Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.

The more I think about the future of my entrepreneurship the more this thinking has lead me to perform specific actions that condition me to be more thoughtful about my personal impact on the earth. Like all of us I am bombarded and indoctrinated by “throw away” culture on a daily basis. To counteract this toxic messaging I am constantly reading books, articles, and digital magazines as well as listening to podcasts that help me rethink the way I live. I am constantly asking myself what can I personally do to reduce my carbon footprint, minimize the amount of waste I am producing, and change my thinking around what “away” really means as it pertains to waste. There is no such thing as away and with this in mind I have forced myself to consider small ways I can improve the negative impact that I personally have on the environment. While it is true that I cannot save the earth alone it is also true that every small action that I take to reduce, reuse, and not produce waste has a cumulative impact on improving the earth.

“What can I do to reduce my carbon footprint and minimize the amount of waste I am producing”

To continue reading the full blog click here