Oompa Loompyas' Alvarez Talks Business, Heritage, and Culture
Whether you've eaten at Oompa Loompyas, seen them at a festival, or just heard of them, you know their restaurant has a good reputation in Syracuse. We sat down Oompa Loompyas' Founder and Owner, Zell Alvarez to ask her some questions about her award winning lumpias and how she got her start in Syracuse.
Read our interview with her below!
Sample her award winning Lumpias at the Greater Syracuse Arts and Culture Festival on August 18th!
Your First and Last Name:
Name of your business:
What culture most inspires your food:
Filipino is very diverse - Spanish, Asian, Indonesian, Milesian, and California, where I am from
I was born in Jersey, but cold winters meant we went to the west coast. We started a family bakery around 1979.There was no Filipino food around at that time. One of the first Filipino bakery owners in U.S, it was called Alice Cakeland.
My family came to the U.S in 1968 and I was born in 1969. My grandparents and parents came together so; I am first generation.
What are some examples of food items on your menu that you typically offer?
Lumpia - specialty is different variations
Pork or beef - traditional
Fusion - Buffalo Chicken, Spinach Artichoke, Award Winning Crab & Bacon Stuffed Shrimp
Lumpia is like a mini Filipino style egg roll
What was your experience with food in the country where you are from? Did you cook? How did you learn to cook?
When I was quite young, my mother entered an international Pillsbury bake off contest – she won grand prize for her orange chiffon cake – and it led to my grandfather starting a bakery in the Philippines.
Mom wanted to live the American dream.
I tell my kids these stories all the time because I want them to be inspired to follow their dreams and honor their heritage.
How did you initially get interested in starting a business? What steps have you had to take to start your business? History of business?
I moved here working for AT&T Business office and I was making Lumpias and cakes on the side. My coworkers loved it and told me that I should start something. I worked for 6 years for AT&T and then I lost my job. I then got a job at the Bank of New York. In transition between AT&T and BNY, I began to think about starting a business. At BNY we had a group pot luck team function. I brought 200 Lumpia’s - just beef - people were going Ga Ga and raving about them. My coworkers were planning team functions about her food, I was taking orders at work and I realized I was on to something but I had 4 kids at home. I ended up losing my job at BNY after 6 years.
So, I took the leap to starting my business because all the jobs available were low wages. I got my DBA. I had two home friers in my house. I was inquisitive, loved to learn, and figured things out on my own. I started asking people “How can I get my name out there.” Someone suggested the better business bureau. I did the Chamber of Commerce Business Show – I needed 5,000 samples. There was nothing to lose – I put my kids to work on it – we rolled 5,000 egg rolls. I had 2 friars, chafing dishes, and a fridge with my kids at the business show in 2009. The Chocolate pizza company was next to me and were impressed by me - my line was out the door. Companies came by – even people from Galaxy Communications who organized taste of Syracuse.
I started catering out of my house, but I needed a commercial kitchen to be legit. I started with the commissary kitchen and finally contracting with a kitchen. It took 3 years to get into the Taste of Syracuse - this was my goal for a long time. After Taste of Syracuse, it was event after event after event. I did a year or two of festivals. I went to the first competitive Lumpia contest in the US and won first place out of 10 entries in San Diego. The Oompa Loompyas storefront opened in May 2016 as Syracuse’s First Filipino Eatery.
Why do you believe in Syracuse? What do you love about Syracuse?
I believe in Syracuse because we have a small diverse ethnic city that can do big things culturally, as well as stimulate our local small businesses with such diversity. You know the saying goes "it takes a village to raise a child"...well same concept- our community can put forth such talent from local chefs and entrepreneurs. Syracuse believes in me and I keep pushing to give something back, something profound that incorporates my culture through food.
Where can someone purchase your food?
Oompa Loompyas' address is 600 Burnet Ave Syracuse NY, 13203. You can find them on the web at oompaloompyas.net. You can also get free samples of our food at the Greater Arts and Culture Festival on August 18th!