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
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

The First 48 Hours After a Fibromyalgia Flare Up | Living with Fibromyalgia (REPOST)

Yesterday I literally thought I was dying. Honestly, I haven’t experienced such a severe 24 hour fibromyalgia flare in a long time. It came on as soon as I woke up Tuesday morning and lasted literally until 10 AM today. I don’t have the words to describe the feeling but I can describe my process of recovery for the next two days.

No matter how positive you think, or how mindful you are, there is just no way to dispute the fact that chronic illness sucks. Backwards and forwards. In and out. Up and down. All around; fibro stinks. Some days you wake up feeling deceptively great ready to take on the world. Most days you lie in bed angry, exhausted, and barely able to move wondering what you could have possibly done the day before to feel like you were ran over by a semi-truck. You relish the good days but you also rue the good days since good days usually mean you’ve push your body too far. So you wake up the next day wishing the day before never happened.

You are constantly thinking ahead. Reshuffling your invisible spoons, rearranging your schedule, re-prioritizing what is most important to get done and what can be put off until a better day. Trying to mark one more item off your to do list before your body most certainly gives out on you. Then there’s the fibro fog and memory lapses. The jolts of pain. And the fatigue. Did I mention the fatigue? ( I might have forgotten). You don’t know unrelenting, indescribable, nonsensical fatigue unless you’ve lived with fibromyalgia. This post could go on and on but I’ll spare you. I think the point has been made.

And for those of you living with or knowing someone with a chronic pain condition, this post is written to help you better understand the emotional, mental, and physical toll that chronic pain takes on many of us living with an invisible chronic illness; specifically following a fibromyalgia flare.

Since my illness happens to be fibromyalgia this post is written from my personal perspective. But understand that many of these emotions, feelings, and perspectives are shared across different illnesses and it is my hope that by sharing just a glimpse of what is so often unsaid I’ll bring just a little more clarity on the complexities that come with living with a chronic illness.

For me though, what may be the worst part of living with fibromyalgia is the inconsistency of the illness. Even though I’ve lived with fibromyalgia for 7+ years; every day I learn something new. Each time I “flare” and feel increased surges of all my symptoms, it’s always like the first time since what causes today’s flare up might not be what caused the last one. You see these high tides of fatigue and pain are best known in the fibro world as a flare. What exactly is a fibro flare you ask? Thankfully I made a whole post about it.

What is a Fibro Flare?

Simply put :

A flare is the worsening or exacerbation of symptoms that already exist,” says Daniel Clauw, MD, professor of anesthesiology, rheumatology and psychiatry at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “Patients use different timeframes for what they consider a flare, but it’s generally several days or weeks of worsening symptoms. Anything shorter is considered normal waxing and waning of symptoms that someone with fibromyalgia can expect.”

You can learn more in my post here but what I most wanted to get across in this post is the emotional, mental, and physical pain that flares put on those of us living with chronic pain.

Guilt

Inevitably, flares hit us during the most inopportune times. Perhaps due to the subconscious stress of an impending big event, the physical toll of a long day, or even a sudden change in the weather the most common emotion that hits us during and after a flare is guilt. Guilt that we’ve had to cancel an important event. Guilt that we called into work again. Guilt that you let your friends or family down. The problem with guilt is that it is taxing to our already taxed systems. It is also insidious and has been one of the hardest emotions that I personally have had to learn how to manage.

Insecurity

Immediately after a flare; you begin to feel insecure. Questions like Did I push to far, can I begin again, should I go back to work, and can I handle my life begin to surface. It is easy to feel broken, embarrassed, and full of self-doubt. Sometimes I feel like I won’t survive another flare and I wonder how I’ve gotten this far. These feelings can linger for days after a flare has subsided.

Pain

Pain is a mainstay with fibromyalgia. Pain is always there even when it is managed by medication. Pain is unnatural to our bodies and sometimes it is hard to know exactly when flare pain begins and ends. Learning to exist day to day with extremely high levels of pain is something that those of us with fibromyalgia have learned to do very well. This constant pain is unnatural and can be worse immediately before or after a flare.

How Can You Help

This is just the surface of what happens after a person with chronic pain experiences a flare. If you are a caretaker, friend, or associate of somone living with an invisible illness it can be difficult to know how to help or what to do when your friend experiences a flare. You may feel helpless and not know what to do or say to best help. Come back on September 24th to learn how you can help.

To learn more about chronic pain and pain advocacy visit the U.S Pain Foundation

Salted Brown Butter Crispy Squares + Mini Smitten Kitchen Cook Book Review

While attending dinner at my friend and his wife’s home recently, I casually opened up one of their cookbooks and immediately fell in love. The book happened to be the first cookbook of the legendary food blogger; Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. As  a foodie I had heard of the Smitten Kitchen blog but never followed it. Well, I must say after perusing several pages of the book I immediately fell in love.

Mini Review: The Smitten Kitchen

Deb’s recipes are simple, relatable and unfussy making them perfect for the everyday or occasional home cook. Deb’s prose is funny, personable, and amusing. I found myself taking screenshots of many of the recipes and quickly found that one of the most simple of them all was the recipe that I most wanted to try.

Deb took an American classic, Rice Crispy Squares and elevated them with simple real ingredients to make a delightful dessert that is not only simple but mouthwatering. This recipe for Salted Brown Butter Crispy Squares is the epitome of simple things are best and is now one of my favorite gluten free recipes.

Salted Brown Butter Crispy Squares

Ingredients

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons vanilla
5 cups Rice Crispy Treats
1 (10) ounce bag mini marshmallows

Preparation

  1. Coat with non-stick spray an 8-inch square cake pan with 2-inch sides.
  2. In a large pot, melt butter and vanilla over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently
  3. As soon as the butter takes on a nutty color, turn the heat off and stir in the marshmallows.
  4. Remove the pot from the stove and stir in the salt and cereal together. Using a silicon spatula quickly spread into prepared pan.
  5. Allow to cool in refrigerator until  set (about one hour).

Source: Smitten Kitchen 

Homemade Vegan Hot Cocoa

I’m over winter! There I confessed. Even though there’s only 30 days (and counting) until Spring it seems like the winter has just started. The S.A.D is starting wear on my psyche and despite my attempts to see the bright side, I’m beginning to want to do nothing other than stay in bed all day hiding from the cold.

However, instead of giving into the feeling, I dragged myself out of the house today and went to an evening gentle yoga class. I’m so glad I did. My body felt so much better for it. Upon my arrival home I immediately pulled out my recipe below for Homemade Vegan Hot Cocoa and whipped up a steaming mug full. There’s nothing like vegan hot cocoa to warm your bones. I’ll keep the warm beverages coming while I continue to schedule self-caring treatments to keep my body healthy.

Homemade Vegan Hot Cocoa

Ingredients

1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 cup coconut milk
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup coconut palm sugar or stevia, or less

Preparation

  1. Add all ingredients into small saucepan heat until hot and well blended, stirring throughout until all ingredients are blended. Transfer to a mug, serve immediately.

Hot Cocoa Chocolate Bundt Cake

My bundt cake streak continues with this Hot Cocoa Bundt Cake that I tastespotted over on the Cookies and Cups blog. I took the best elements of this cake (the hot cocoa) and married them with my tried and true gluten free chocolate cake recipe. This is my first time baking my chocolate cake in a bundt pan and it turned out amazing. Get into the recipe and be sure to have a slice of this decadent cake for breakfast with a mug of hot cocoa or coffee.

Hot Cocoa Chocolate Bundt Cake 

Ingredients

dry

1 cup all-purpose gluten free flour blend
3⁄4 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 cup + 2 tablespoon dark cocoa powder

wet

3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1⁄4 cup vegan margarine
5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla
1⁄2 cup rice milk
1⁄2 cup brewed hot chocolate (may use water or non-dairy milk)
2 large eggs

glaze

  • 1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips 
  • 2 tablespoons dry hot chocolate mix
  • 1/4 cup rice milk
  • 1 tablespoon vegan margarine

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Sift together the baking powder, baking soda, salt, cocoa, and sugar in bowl and set aside
  2. In a Kitchenaid stand mixer, cream margarine and sugar until light and fluffy; about 2 -3 minutes.
  3. Add the oil and continue mixing until the mixture looks like wet sand.
  4. Combine the rice milk, coffee (or other liquid), and vanilla and add all at once. Beat until just combined.
  5. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between additions.
  6. Spray Bundt pan generously with non-stick spray.
  7. Slowly pour mixture into Bundt pan
  8. Bake 60- 70 minutes
  9. Allow cake to cool completely before glazing

glaze preparation 

  1. In small saucepan over low heat melt chocolate, dry hot chocolate mix, rice milk and vegan margarine together until melted, stirring frequently
  2. Remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes
  3. Pour over cooled cake

Source: Cookies & Cups