It’s been 50 years since Turlock resident Guadalupe Cordoba came to the Central Valley from Mexico and changed the region’s cuisine for the better — a journey she recalls in her book “La Morenita: The Story of Lupe Cordoba,” which tells the tale of her ascent from childhood life in a small town south of the border to nationally acclaimed restaurateur in America.
Originally published in 1999, an updated version of “La Morenita” was released earlier this year which provides some new context that had been “lost in translation” in the earlier edition, Cordoba’s daughter Gloria Smallwood said. Also included are new and updated photos, including the stunning portrait of the author that now graces the book’s cover.
Despite one adversity after the other, “La Morenita” tells the story of how Cordoba persevered through the collapse of her marriage after reaching America with three small children. From sleeping in her car to eventually opening her own restaurant and preparing hors d’oeuvres for a former president, Cordoba draws on these events to offer advice to readers and encourage them in their pursuit of success.
“I didn’t write my life story to make money, I made it because I want people to see the story and make something of their life,” Cordoba said. “Don’t quit, ever.”
The Turlock community came together to support the new edition during a book signing at La Mo Cafe on Sept. 18, where all 100 copies that had been ordered for the event were signed by Cordoba and purchased by happy customers. Cordoba was emotional over the outpouring of support, Smallwood said.
“One customer, I’ll never forget. She was crying because she was with us when we first opened the restaurant in 1972 and she’s still coming to our restaurant,” Smallwood said. “She said that it’s not just the food, but the whole concept of our hospitality and how we serve the community. I’ll never forget that.”
Cordoba “has no words” to express the gratitude she feels when she thinks about how her family has taken over the business, which started with the first La Morenita in Turlock 50 years ago. Smallwood has expanded that original endeavor with La Mo Cafe, along with her daughter Hillary Smith, in downtown Turlock, and Cordoba’s other daughter Mary Delgado owns and operates all of the El Jardin restaurants.
In total, Cordoba’s influence on family members and former employees she trained herself has resulted in over 50 restaurants throughout the state cooking her recipes to this day.
“You can really see the fruits of her labor here and all of the people she inspired to go out and earn a living for their family,” Smallwood said.
“I think I got the American Dream,” Cordoba said.
As Cordoba’s legacy continues through her family, including her children and grandchildren, those curious about the journey to get there can purchase “La Morenita: The Story of Lupe Cordoba” on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble or in downtown Turlock at La Mo Cafe.