December 3, 2021 | NEWS | By Sabrina Brewer | Photo by Sabrina Brewer
Monse Hines, owner of Monse’s Pupuseria in Old Colorado City, discusses leaving home, the challenges of living on a military base, and the process of opening a restaurant. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
“I am born and raised in El Salvador. I left my country when I was 24 years old.
Chalchuapa is a very, very small town. My parents still walk back and forth everywhere. You go to market every day, you live day by day, everybody knows everyone, everybody’s your cousin. It’s just a small-town feeling — a simple life. I miss the simple life.
I was studying economics in college and an opportunity came up to go to Germany to learn the language for one year.
The weather was different because I’m used to El Salvador, so I moved to Germany where it’s way colder. It’s a big city. I was shocked like, ‘Oh my god, what I experienced in movies is what I saw.’
I think it opened also the way that I think. When you go to a big country and you leave your country, it’s a big eye opener for you. You realize how big the world is and how many opportunities are out there and how different countries in the world are in the way they think.
I did that just for three months because I arrived in Germany at the end of July, and I met Tim on the 21st of September, 2004. So, we got married three months later.
My friends from school brought me to Oktoberfest and when I was over there Tim was standing next to me. We just start talking and we like each other so we talk and then there it is. Then we came back to the United States to get married here.
They gave me a military ID, I flew back to Germany, then we lived in Germany for almost seven years, where I experienced a little bit more of the culture and how people live and what it’s like living in Germany as an American family. So, it was very interesting because I was learning both languages at the same time.
It was different because you live on a military base. It was hard at the beginning because you just feel like you’re locked down pretty much. It’s weird.
It was hard for me because of the language barrier, marrying very fast in a culture that I didn’t know about. And then it’s just so different. Military bases are very easy, but it’s hard for somebody who lived their entire life to come as an adult to another country.
It was really lonely because it was even hard for me to make friends because of the language barrier and my husband working all the time. At the beginning, I did not drive so I did not have a way to move. I was trying to just take busses and walk and go outside but at the beginning it was a little depressing I remember.
In those moments where I start feeling like, ‘Oh my gosh I miss my culture, I miss my weather, I miss my family, my country,’ is when I actually start cooking. There is where actually I start being like, ‘I’m going to start doing all my food from my country,’ and that is when I started my desire for cooking.
I always liked cooking, but remember we were from a very poor family, so we didn’t have a lot.
When I cooked in Germany, I started cooking tamales. That’s what I really was craving. My aunt came to visit me and she’s like, ‘Okay we’re going to make tamales.’ She is actually the one I feel like inspired me the most.
Through food is when I started making friends because I would bring food to my neighbors.
After seven years in Germany, we moved back to the United States. We moved to Colorado Springs. As a Christian I was like, ‘God, give me an idea. I need to work in something. I want to do something that I own.’
It was hard to move to Colorado Springs because we arrived in Colorado Springs the second week of July. The first of September, my husband was deployed to Afghanistan for one year.
I remember trying to open a business, didn’t know English, didn’t know where anything was. My husband had one month to introduce me to America before he left, so it was a really hard transition. But you know, I was there trying to figure it out and I have my dream and goals in life, and I did not give up.
My sister told me that in Colorado there is a grocery store called Whole Foods. So I went to Whole Foods just to see the grocery store. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I never saw as beautiful a grocery store as Whole Foods.’ Then when I walking through an aisle, I saw a brand that was frozen pupusas. And then I thought, ‘Oh they don’t sell curtido, I’m going to start making curtido.’
I talked to the manager and the manager told me you should put your product together. Then I went to rent a kitchen. I started making the curtido and I brought it to Whole Foods and the manager said, ‘I love it.’
They said if headquarters is interested, they will contact me. When I walked to the car, I got an email that said, ‘Welcome to Whole Foods, your product has been accepted.’ It took 15 minutes to get in Whole Foods back in 2011.
I started adding pupusas, and we have pupusas in the frozen aisle and we have curtido in the refrigerators. We grew to 113 stores in the state. We were in Whole Foods, Natural Grocers, Safeway, and local grocery stores.
I decided to open the restaurant to be able to have double income, one the wholesale account and the other one will be just the restaurant.
When we opened three years ago it used to just run Wednesday to Saturday, just for lunch. And then the restaurant started growing.
I remember when we opened the doors, we had a line of people. The line of people was all outside the fence. I remember I just wanted to cry. I cannot go to the front because I will start crying so I stay in the back.
We decided you know what, let’s quit wholesale accounts, let’s dedicate 100% to this restaurant because it’s more community and that’s what we like the most.”