Rooted in Food
Chef Melissa Araujo creates community connections through modern Honduran cuisine.
Long before she founded Alma Café, Chef Melissa Araujo spent the summers of her youth on her grandmother’s farm in La Ceiba, Atlántida, Honduras, where she was born. It was during this time that she developed her love of food and her understanding of hard work and family.
“This time in my life is one of my most cherished memories, allowing me to discover a deeper understanding of my heritage and further cultivate my love for cooking,” Araujo says. “The time I spent in my grandmother’s kitchen is the base of my culinary journey. From a young age, the women of my family drilled into me that dishes should always be locally sourced and that cooking farm-to-table is imperative.”
When not on her grandmother’s farm in Honduras, Araujo spent her time in Providence, Rhode Island. While the Northeast had a vastly different atmosphere, it also contributed to her culinary style and personal development. She relocated to New Orleans with her family when she turned 16.
Araujo eventually started Saveur Catering in New Orleans, and she quickly began developing a concept for Alma Café as a pop-up. “I am a Honduran-American who has a deep sense of heritage and pride in my culture,” she says. “I started Alma as a concept that paid homage to my grandmother’s kitchen. I wanted to share that sense of belonging, culture, heritage, love and what it feels like to feed your soul.”
Indeed, even the name Alma speaks to the essence of Araujo’s food. The word means “soul” in Spanish. “Alma is everything that has led me to open this restaurant,” she says. “I’m baring my soul to the people who come here and sharing my story and my journey. This restaurant, Alma, is a part of me. It’s who I am.”
Araujo further explains that she sees food as a memory—one that she recreates for her patrons with every dish. “Every time you eat something, in the back of your head, automatically, you memorize that feeling; you memorize that taste,” she says. “Every meal and every part of my Hispanic background is tied together. Without my background and my heritage, I wouldn’t be the chef I am.”
Another reason that Araujo decided to start her pop-up was to serve the Honduran population in New Orleans. “I saw there was a need for my community to be reminded of their grandmothers’ tables or for my neighbor to explore a combination of flavors they have never experienced before,” she says. “Having a great tasting menu and beautiful presentation has allowed me to garner the success I have.”
Her modern Honduran cuisine at Alma Café includes popular dishes like the Alma breakfast, The Campechano, baleadas, crawfish, eggs Benedict, huevos rancheros and seafood paella. The menu also offers more traditional breakfast cuisine, such as blueberry lemon ricotta pancakes (named the best pancakes in Louisiana by Eat This, Not That!).
Araujo opened a permanent location in the Bywater during the pandemic and has since added dinner service to her offerings. The restaurant also features a full bar and handcrafted cocktails.
Araujo credits the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana with allowing her to connect with members of her community. “[I have] created relationships that allow myself and my businesses to help propel our Hispanic community in the right direction,” she says. “Just recently, I had the opportunity to welcome Hispanic students into my restaurant and show them that our community is successful and thriving. That is what the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana is all about—helping to facilitate success, while providing a sense of community.”
Araujo has plans to open more concepts in the next 10 years under her Araujo Restaurant Group umbrella. Currently, she is working on finalizing Comedor Soto, a Latin American food truck.