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  • Writer's pictureSam Payne

Burritos and Stories

The Weber Storytelling Festival has been an institution in Ogden, Utah, for more than two decades. Held over three days, just as February becomes March each year, the festival features tellers of all kinds, including 60-70 youth storytellers each year, chosen by their schools and sent to venues like the beautiful Peery’s Egyptian Theater to perform on stages with some of the world’s great storytellers.

This year, a couple of us were looking for a great place to have a little lunch during a busy day of storytelling, and Yelp led us to a tiny little restaurant called “Rosa’s Café.” The place smelled terrific, and we said so to the girl behind the register. “That’s all because of my mama’s recipes,” she said, pointing to Mama, who stood at the far end of the counter talking to a customer.

At Rosa’s, we were treated to the best burritos we can ever remember eating. They were delicious, colorful, and enormous. And because it took awhile to eat them, we had plenty of time to strike up a conversation with the girl behind the register. Her name was Ida. Ida told us that the family had lived in Ogden for a dozen years or so, and that they had always wanted to have a restaurant together. It was a fantasy they talked about often, the children reminiscing about the wonderful food their mama had always been able to make, even during hard times, from nearly nothing. Now, as adults, they all had jobs in one place or another. But even with their adult lives moving forward, sometimes they allowed themselves to talk about their delicious fantasy (as we talked with Ida, she says to her mama, “Mira, Mami, me estan entrevistando!” “Look, Mom, I’m being interviewed!”).

After all that fantasizing, no one ever thought they’d actually have a restaurant together. But one day, Ida’s father came home and slapped a stack of papers on the kitchen counter. The papers were a contract. Signed. Papa, as a surprise, had gone and made it happen – signed a contract on a little space downtown. They were in. Rosa’s Café was going to be a reality.

As you can imagine, Papa was in trouble at first. But it wasn’t long before everyone quit their jobs and took their place at the café (at this moment in our conversation, Ida’s son, maybe nine years old, comes into the restaurant. School is over, and it’s time for a hug and a kiss from mama. He walks behind the counter and gets them both – and then one of each from Grandma).

Now, a year and a half after Rosa’s opened its doors, Papa wants to get a bigger place. But he doesn’t want to get in trouble.

As we talked with Ida and her family, we felt the thrill of apprehension and excitement that must have accompanied the moment Papa put the signed contract on the table. We felt both the weight and the joy of the work that has Ida’s family all together, shoulders to the wheel in the tiny café. And, of course, the family’s story came to us in a wonderful dance that included not only the spoken words of Ida and her family to us in English and Spanish, but also the hugs and kisses and jokes they exchanged with each other, and the smells and tastes of a meal delicious enough to get emotional about (Suzanne Christensen, across the table from me, took her first bite and sighed. “Good?” I asked. “Yes,” she sighed. “And that was just the rice”).

We had spent a day-and-a-half telling stories from stage, and would spend another day-an-a-half doing the same thing after lunch at Rosa’s. Our stories were carefully crafted and rehearsed, most of them partly true and partly made up. But a visit to Rosa’s was a reminder of the incredible story that exists behind each shop window, behind each door in each neighborhood, in the home of each family. We felt reverent before that notion. We feel so now.

What a delicious lesson to learn at a storytelling festival.

Find out more about the Weber Storytelling festival right here:

Find out more about Rosa's Café by visiting them on Facebook. Look for "Rosa's Cafe'."

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