GEN: First, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your business?
Chef Eric Rivera: My parents are from Puerto Rico, and I was the first person in my family who was born stateside. For me, it’s been really hard to figure out how to get Puerto Rican cuisine going here in Seattle, because there’s not a big market. My entire professional life has been to basically find out how to cook everybody else’s food. Then, about three years ago, I started my own restaurant and business, Addo.
I’m the only person in Seattle doing Puerto Rican food at all. I grew up on Goya—I think all of us did. It’s convenient. It’s something that’s there. It’s something we all depend on. But I knew a lot of stuff was missing from their product line. There’s a lot of homogenization that happens with them creating a brand-specific flavor for things that doesn’t necessarily tell the full story of what our culture is. That’s what led me to build my own pantry out of it. Not necessarily as an “I’m going to take on Goya, fuck them” kind of thing, but because I don’t think they should be telling the whole story.
Tell me about growing up with Goya in your pantry. What type of products did your family use?
Everything! The beans, the rice, the tostones, the adobo, the sazón. It’s been an entire lifetime of seeing it and experiencing it. Also, going down the rabbit hole of products that are specific to the North American market. There are also products just specific to Seattle, which is a very small market, and then going to Puerto Rico and seeing how that product line is even bigger. Even around Latin America, there are different product lines with specific cultural staples. Literally every single person I’m talking to right now who is Puerto Rican or Hispanic, we’re all just like, “What the fuck is wrong with them?” It’s like the Jordan brand came out with a MAGA hat. You’re like, “What?” It’s insane.
What do you make of what Goya CEO Roberto Unanue said at the White House?
They’re completely out of touch with what we’re at right now and have been. It’s the ultimate slap in the face — a Spanish guy who owns a company that is supposed to represent us, sitting there siding with pretty much the biggest monster of all time. Saying, “Oh yeah, we stand beside you,” and it’s like, “No, you don’t, not at all.” Trump has literally locked kids in cages. We have a bunch of our people dying because they’re being forced to work at meatpacking plants during the Covid-19 pandemic so these white people can make a ton of money off it. I’m sure they have processing plants at Goya that they’re making all of their people work at, and it’s just us working there too. The guy can stand there in his little suit and tie, buddying up with Trump, while all of us are actually doing all the work and we’re dying. It’s not okay.
What do you think of the boycott?
I think it’s a long time coming. I think it’s tough, because there are people who, for them, it’s a convenience product and that’s all they can afford. There are other people who can make that decision, and they should boycott Goya. They should not buy their stuff. They should find other avenues. They should maybe make their own recipes too and start their own business—take the torch and burn their own path. That’s better than just being okay with a brand that doesn’t represent its customers.
To an extent, this is a question around ethical consumption and who can afford to make those decisions. Because as you mentioned, these are affordable, convenient products.
That’s the tough part. That’s the hardest part. I also don’t want to see people throwing out Goya products when there are people who can actually use it to eat it. You know what I mean? I don’t want to see people in their backyard, like, burning shit. It’s still food, and we’re in the middle of the pandemic — that’s something somebody else can use or eat. Just, when you need to re-up, make a different choice if you can.
Why do you think it’s important for entrepreneurs like yourself and other smaller business owners to offer this alternative in the market?
You have to be representative of your people. If a company like a Goya really wants to stand behind Trump, then they’re going to have to pay the price, right?
And if I say, “Fuck Trump,” then there’s a price obviously for me to pay too. There are going to be people who support him that don’t want to buy from me. I’m okay with that. I don’t want people who support that guy to buy from me, and I make that very clear. There are always going to be those people who say, “Well, it’s just food. It’s not politics.” But all food is politics all the time. There’s always a message behind everything. There’s always a story behind everything. I want to be ethical, and I want to be right. So, that way, people who are eating the products that I offer know what I stand for.
How has the response to your tweet been?
We had 1,000 orders in the first 24 hours. That’s pretty crazy. It’s been like night and day. I had a conversation with a person earlier today and said, “Yeah, I mean, 38-year overnight success.” I’m not even the person or the voice. There’s more. There are more people out there. There’re more options out there. There should be more options out there. I guarantee there’s still going to be somebody we’re going to send our sazón to and they are going to be like, “What is this shit?” I’m okay with that, because if it inspires them to be like, “I’m fucking making this, and I’m going to make my own, and it’s going to be better,” that’s better than having Goya say, “Fuck you. We’re the only ones that make it.”
Okay, last question. What do you need if you want to make your own sazón?
One of the main ingredients in ours is annatto as the base. Not a lot of people use it or understand it. The Goya stuff uses turmeric and then a tiny bit of annatto, so you get more of an orangey hue. Mine’s more dark red. The annatto ties into the native culture of Puerto Rico. It gives you a longer range of the history of what this spice mix is and how it developed into being something that we all know as sazón now. We add a little bit of paprika and a little bit of cumin. We can go from there and add salt and pepper or saffron or whatever, but the base to me is that annatto. That’s the most important part, because it really traces the cuisine back to the island’s Taíno Indians. A lot of people don’t really give them enough credit.