THE BEGINNING OF A BENEVOLENT ASSOCIATION. The Chicago Tribune runs a story about an eatery in Los Angeles called the Homegirl Cafe.
There is the food, Mexican with a twist. But it's the help that makes the difference. Where else can your frothy bowl of fideo soup--noodles, peas and cilantro--be prepared by a girl from the Lynwood gang, served by a woman from the Maravilla gang and cleared from your table by a smiling mother from the 18th Street gang?
It's in such establishments that ethnic benevolent associations such as the Polish National Alliance begin. That, and a little tough love.

Whether serving food or chopping onions, the girls can be slow and inefficient, causing customers to wait. But Zarate pushes them: Move faster, clean more, smile often.Sometimes they push back with stares and shrugs and snickers.

When they go too far, as one did when she showed up singing loudly and smelling of alcohol, Zarate fires them. Politely."It's not all roses, you know," Flores said. "It's not easy money, like I'm used to. . . . That's something new. The main thing is: You have to work hard for this, like Patty works. Be patient. Just try."

The food sounds interesting as well.
Most of it was Mexican, but much of it was vegetarian. All of it was light and healthy. She used basil, lentils and filo dough. "Japanese mushrooms and tofu," said Romie Armenta, one of the scores of parishioners who grew enchanted with her cooking. "Tofu with mole sauce? We'd never heard of that."

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