Jakeline Estrada always knew about her mother’s love of cooking.
“She’s very creative in the kitchen,” Estrada said. “That was the way she helped us to support the household, selling food, preparing food.”
Years ago, Jakeline remembers, not even the lack of reliable transportation slowed down her mother. “She would make deliveries in my little sister’s baby stroller and she would put all the stuff on there and then carry my sister and walk her around Worcester making deliveries.”
Back then, her mother’s dream of opening a restaurant appeared it would remain just that, a dream. That changed two years ago, after eight years of Jakeline going to school and working in the hospitality industry. Jakeline, her mother, Talyta Contreras, and Jakeline’s husband, Robervan Silveira, began a journey to make the dream a reality.
That dream, Talyta’s Café at 20 Front St., will celebrate its first anniversary on Oct. 28.
A lot has happened since the restaurant, which offers Mexican and Salvadoran food, opened with great fanfare — complete with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Mayor Joseph M. Petty, City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr., and Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce President Timothy P. Murray.
Talyta’s, which offered delivery from the get-go, responded to customer demand by adding a catering service. The cafe was an active participant in the Worcester Common-based Out to Lunch summer concert series. It tweaked the menu and recently joined the quinoa craze with its own organic offering.
And did we mention the biggest change of all?
Jakeline became a mother seven months ago. A picture of baby Caleb even adorns the cafe’s Facebook page, “The new crew member at Talyta’s cafe,” it reads. Quite a first year, indeed.
“There’s always room for growth and understanding the industry and what the customer likes, without leaving behind the traditions and recipes,” Jakeline said. “Also, the location is mostly a lunch crowd, so we have to be very aware of that, which is why we’re working on a taco bar.”
The taco bar, which Jakeline expects to open the last week of October or first week of November, is being built with an eye toward allowing greater flexibility in ordering and serving customers faster.
“We value the fact that customers choose to come and have lunch with us, and we want to give them the experience of enjoying traditional food and also making the best of the short lunch that they have,” Jakeline said. “Our customers will have their food in 5 minutes.”
Tacos, she said, are “a fun, delicious, flavorful lunch,” and provide customers with the ability to experience different meats and toppings.
On the day we visited, we acknowledged our lack of understanding of the difference between Mexican and Salvadoran food. Jakeline addressed that with the Combo de la Casa ($5.50), which included a pupusa, a tamal and a taco. It was served with fresh lettuce and pico de gallo and homemade salsa verde.
The flavors complemented each other nicely, and the spices gave everything a nice bite without overpowering the flavors. And, because we couldn’t leave well enough alone, we tried Talyta’s homemade chorizo sausage, which was out of this world.
It’s easy to see why, by Jakeline’s estimate, 80 percent of the cafe’s business comes through word of mouth.
“It’s been more of a challenge than I thought it would be,” Jakeline said of the first year. “I’m very focused on what I’m doing. My time is so valuable.
“It’s the sacrifice we have to make now to see the rewards in the future. I want this business to succeed a lot, especially to honor my mom because of all the sacrifices she’s done for me and my siblings,” said Jakeline of her two sisters and a brother, all of whom are younger. “And I want my son also to be really proud and have that business mentality, as well. Might not be the restaurant industry, who knows, but it’s such a great legacy that we can give to our son, I believe. To have that mentality of building something and growing it.”
She prizes her location on Front Street.
“We liked it here because we saw how the city was investing, revitalizing the area,” Jakeline said. When Edgar Luna, the business development manager for the city’s Cultural Development Office, brought them to the former home of The Worcester Subway (also a sandwich shop, not the franchise), “I said, ‘I guess this is going to be the spot,’ ” she recalled.
“Edgar Luna, he was really, really helpful to us. He was a really good advisor, too,” she said.
Jakeline and Talyta handle the day-to-day operations, with Talyta overseeing a lot of the preparation and deliveries. Robervan, Jakeline said, works behind the scenes. “He’s here when no one else is,” she said with a smile.
After the taco bar, Jakeline has her sights set on expansion.
“I really want to have a food truck,” she said. “I enjoy so much doing Out to Lunch during the summer. It’s fun. I like the fun of the events.”
In 2005, Jakeline and her siblings immigrated here to be with their mother, who’d arrived in Worcester two years before. Ten years later, they have a welcoming lunch spot and plans to expand.
“Great hidden gem downtown!!” reads a recent post to the cafe’s Facebook wall.
20 Front St.
Hours: Monday-Wednesday, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Thursday-Friday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m.