Editor’s Note: Rachel is serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) at NEHDA for the year. Her roll involves a variety of tasks, such as recruiting volunteers and applying for funding opportunities to plan really cool, really fun events that benefit the community. Rachel graduated from SUNY New Paltz with a BFA in Sculpture and a minor in psychology. She spent the past year serving in another AmeriCorps program where she traveled the state of New York to help out with various environmental projects. As part of Rachel’s work with NEHDA, she is writing some posts for us to share. All of her posts can be found under the “NEHDA” category. To learn more about NEHDA, visit their website and Facebook.
Azella is a Northside resident and business owner. Her restaurant is called Oompa Loompyas, which is a pun on the popular and delicious Filipino spring roll or lumpia.
Q: What brought you to the area?
I was married to a military guy, so when he got out of the military, we found that having 3 kids and living in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in California, which is San Diego, was not feasible. So we started looking outwards and he was actually from the New York area . . . His family eventually moved here, so we visited here maybe twice, and that was it. We were like, let’s go! So, since then, we haven’t left since ’99 so we’re still here. When asked if she misses the weather, Azella immediately responded (with laughter) “Always.”
Q: What advice would you give to someone considering opening a business on the Northside?
I would say definitely have the passion for it because it’s a lot of long hours. I don’t think it ever dies down. It just becomes, because you love what you do, it doesn’t seem like work. But you definitely have to get all the information . . . You have to have all your certificates in line, health, business, all in a row to get started because you can’t operate without that. You definitely want to go around and talk to any peers or friends or colleagues that you know and get any type of feedback from them because obviously experience matters. But when you’re in the trench of it all and you’re learning from the ground up, it’s you. It’s on you . . . The restaurant business, I will say, is the hardest. You never know what you’re going to get on a day to day basis. You try to stay consistent . . . Have excellent customer service because, most likely, you might have good food, but if you don’t have the customer service, they won’t come back . . . It works hand in hand.
Q: What developments on the Northside are you most excited for?
Hopefully, vamping up the Northside. Having the community be able to walk outside their house, be able to go to the neighborhood store, see that it’s actually a gem and not say, “Oh, well, gosh, you live on the Northside?” . . . I want to see growth of local restaurants here. It would be great if we could get the diversity—we’re certainly getting it with, there’s Laci’s down the road, there’s Middle Eastern down the road, then you have the Filipino, you have the Asian, the Vietnamese over here on the Northside as well, but it would be nice to see maybe Puerto Rican, Korean, Japanese, things like that all down Burnett would be nice. There’s a lot of open buildings for lease and you’re just hoping someone would go in there. That would, I think, restore the local community.
Left: traditional beef & crab stuffed lumpias; Right: beef bistek
Q: If you could change something about Syracuse, what would it be?
The weather? (Laughter) But it’s ok because I love the fall. If I could have the fall 6 months out of the year, that would be great. So, the weather for sure, but we can’t change that. I would also like to see Syracuse open up about different ethnicities. Because 9 out of 10 times, people will come here and they’ve never have Filipino food, which is so weird! It’s still being discovered…I think that we should find more festivals because people really go all out on festivals on the East Coast (I’m from California) So I’d like to see more diversity in festivals because that could really bring people together. Let’s say, hey! Make an effort to go to this Filipino festival, so to speak. We don’t have that. Even an Asian festival, in general, we don’t have that. We have the population―we’re big on refugees, so I could see that happening . . . I just think that as a whole, we need to be more aware of it.
Q: If you had to teach a class on an obscure topic, what would you teach?
I’d say Filipino 101. I find myself educating everyone everyday. And there’s no problem, I love my culture, but there’s definitely a lot of people that don’t know much about Filipino—what it is even. They’ll say, ‘so what is Filipino?’ They don’t even say, we’ll you’re Asian. They say, ‘what is it? What? Where—what is that a fusion of?’ They don’t see it as Asian at all, they just think it’s different. What would the first class be? Probably be the food, and that we’re such a hodge-podge of different ethnicities. I think we’re like the catalyst of fusion. It’s so weird. Like, in our language, there’s Spanish in it and people don’t know that. The Spaniards were our first settlers there, so the Spaniards are really big on our ancestry and a lot of our influences are from that. But then we’re derived also because being in Asia we derive also Asian, which brings in I think a lot of Malaysian and Chinese circles. So it’s just this mix of really deep roots.
Q: What’s for dinner?
We’re having our national dish. For the longest time, we were offering our pork adobo and people were loving that but a lot of people who were familiar with Filipino food were used to the chicken adobo. So today we have chicken adobo. And then like I said, it’s our signature national dish. It consists of garlic, vinegar, and soy sauce. It marinates for quite some time and you just let it simmer in there for a little bit and out comes this glorious flavor. It is so good and it’s the simplest of flavors but it’s just the depths of it. It’s just amazing.
I can personally attest to the fact that this was, in fact, delicious. There is something magical that happened with those flavors that I can’t quite explain.
To learn more about Oompa Loompyas, follow them on Facebook or visit their website.