An interview with Adriana Sanchez of Manos en la Masa | Wonderful Women Interview Series
Every year, on my solo scouting trips to Costa Rica, I seek out new local spots to take future Travel With Ann groups. Manos en la Masa is one of those treasures I discovered awhile back and have had the pleasure of taking two different groups to since. Adriana has grown this San Jose restaurant into a very popular cafe, restaurant and bakery in Costa Rica’s capital.
What is your role at Manos en la Masa?
I am the founder, but now call my role Culinary Director. I have two partners: my husband, who is in charge of human resources, and Gabriel, who was our chef and became a partner last year. He is now in charge of the kitchen. My husband and I share the management responsibilities
How did your restaurant, Manos en la Masa, come to be?
Our name comes from the Spanish-language saying that means ‘caught in the middle of mischief’. I chose the name back in 2006 when I began blogging about food. Manos en la Masa was essentially a recipe blog. From 2006 to 2012 I devoted myself to learning how to cook properly and to document the process. I learned how to bake during this experiment, and one thing lead to another. By 2009, I had opened a small pop up restaurant at home, and I baked goods to sell online. Then came the coffee shop in 2013 and now we have the restaurant.
What neighborhood are you located in San Jose?
We are located in Barrio Escalante. When we first opened, we opened in a collaborative space, with other people. It was important to have a place near downtown San Jose. Barrio Escalante was a good option. When we outgrew that space, we decided to look for a place nearby so we could keep our customers from the neighborhood. Through serendipity, Barrio Escalante has become a gastronomic hub in the last couple of years, so it turned out to be a wise choice to stay around.
What is it like to be a female entrepreneur in Costa Rica?
Being a woman in the culinary business is always difficult. There is this idea that women are ‘cooks’ and men are ‘chefs’, especially if you don´t have formal training. It is much easier to make a name for yourself as a chef if you are a man. In general, there is a lot of chauvinism in the sector — and in the kitchen. There is this idea here in Costa Rica that you have to be a bit of a ‘thug’, work really long hours, and that in order to fit in you have to tell dirty jokes and use foul language. I needed almost 3 years to make a name for myself and be taken seriously.
Then there are the loan struggles: the first one I asked for, I was single at the time. I did not get it because I was “high risk investment” for the bank. I think it is not easy for anyone, but we women have a different understanding of economics: we have clearer priorities when it comes to spending money, and our business tends to be more collaborative, which is hard but rewarding.
Of course, I also have really positive experiences, as well. I am able to hire good people, offer them decent jobs and create the type of restaurant outside this typical industry standard, and instead create the type of work environment I myself enjoy working in.
How do you and Ann know each other?
I met Ann originally through her Travel With Ann Experiential Adventures. She and a group of great women came to visit and eat with us, and we had a great time together talking about the evolution of Manos en la Masa and the opportunities and challenges for women entrepreneurs in the food sector. Ann and I keep in touch, but we also had the chance to see one another in person recently when she came to our new location as part of a custom group trip that she had designed for extended family.
How important is tourism to businesses like yours, and to Costa Rica, in general?
Tourism has always been a very important to Costa Rica’s economy. For exactly this reason, however, it has been a really chaotic development, with mass tourism contaminating and exploiting natural resources is a very irresponsible way. This type of tourism impoverishes communities, creates a focus on sexual exploitation, child labor and drug sales. Recently, and every year more so, there has been an increase in tourism initiatives to promote a new and different type of tourism. The move toward sustainable, community-focused, and eco-friendly tourism is very important for Costa Rica’s future. We consistently aspire to be a part of this new method, especially by incorporating strategies that promote sustainable gastronomy. That’s why working with groups like Ann brings to Costa Rica is so important to sustainable tourism.
What are you most proud of with Manos en la Masa?
I’m proud that I have been able to design and implement a business that is based on sustainable values. We respect our employees, consume locally grown ingredients and work directly with our customers. We cook healthy food with high quality ingredients at a price that is fair for the customers. And our success proves our business model. You don’t need to be a bad boss or use cheap ingredients to profit. Sustainability works.
Where do you travel within Costa Rica? What is your favorite spot?
I love the Southern Pacific: Bahía Ballena, Osa, Corcovado. I have family in Uvita de Osa, and I used to go there for my holidays when I was a kid. It is a lovely place, with no big hotels, and the coast is lined with natural forest. Anyone who comes to visit Costa Rica should go there.
What is something that most people don’t know about Ticos or Costa Rica?
That is a tricky one. We are not the “happiest place on earth,” as many say. People come to visit and pickup words like “salsa lizano”, “gallo pinto”, “pura vida”, “mae,” but we are so much more than that simplified stereotype. For example, our health care is amazing, and we have 16 different types of avocados. Can you imagine? 16! And they are all delicious. I think that visitors should visit more farmer markets and rural places. The interior is just as beautiful as the coast, and please: remember the poorest places in Costa Rica are, ironically, located on the coasts.
I would say this: when coming to Costa Rica, you should try to look for the rural tourism initiatives that promote a more community focused development, instead of the big hotels. Many families have a spare room that they rent gladly, and there you have access to real local food, and the chance to get to know the real deal.
In essence, what most people don’t realize is that when they visit, they are visiting some of our poorest regions (the coasts), so by making responsible decisions with your tourism dollars, those consumer decisions can help us to improve the quality of life for all our rural communities.
How do people connect to you?
Interested in a trip to Costa Rica?
Find out more about Travel With Ann Experiential Adventures. You’ll meet Gaby, take classes here, travel with incredible women (and men, depending on the trip) and have a completely unique, totally authentic trip. Visit abecker.com/travel for more.