Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: Three ‘abuelitas’ always in the mix at Sacramento’s Centro Cocina

If you think the food at Centro Cocina Mexicana tastes as good as your grandmother’s, you’re very close to uncovering a crucial secret to this 20-year-old Sacramento restaurant’s success.

Julia Rogel, Martha Jimenez and Micaela Gonzales-Garcia – all three of whom are now abuelitas, or grandmothers have worked 18, 17 and 14 years, respectively, in Centro’s kitchen at 2730 J St. At Centro, Jimenez carefully assembles the mole negra from about 30 ingredients whenever she’s working, and as sous chef, she trains other kitchen staff. And daily, for the last 14 years, either Rogel or Gonzales-Garcia has made the tortillas. They also poach the chicken, roast the pork, mix masa and prepare salsas.

“If Julia’s not here making tortillas, Micaela is,” said executive chef Kurt Spataro, a co-owner of Centro with Randy and Stacy Paragary. “They’re the only two people who do it, so there’s a consistency and routine to the cooking that no matter what day of the week, month, year, whenever it is, these three are making the food.”

Jimenez started as a dishwasher at Centro. Two of her sons and her sister have worked there. Gonzales-Garcia’s daughter works at another restaurant in the Paragary chain, Cafe Bernardo R15. They and Spataro all come from different backgrounds, but the four of them say they have become family at Centro. Rogel learned to cook in the La Paz region of her native El Salvador; Jimenez in the Pacific Coast state of Jalisco, Mexico; and Gonzales-Garcia in Hidalgo, not far from the Gulf of Mexico. And, of course, the self-taught Spataro grew up in south Sacramento.

He credits Rogel, Jimenez, Gonzales-Garcia and other kitchen staff at Centro for supplying the belief and devotion that have allowed Centro to maintain a scratch kitchen for two decades.

“When we opened, we were so busy,” Spataro said. “At the end of every day, the cooks and I would look at each other and say, ‘Is this even possible, what we’re trying to do? Making tortillas and making fresh tamales?’ We thought this might not be possible because we were just barely hanging on, but over time, it got easier, and we settled into a rhythm.”

Taking shot at new market

The team at Auburn-based Riskalzye discovered that investment firms had identified a new use for their software, so they quickly pivoted and made upgrades to capitalize on a new market.

Faithful readers will recall that Riskalzye offers software to financial advisers that quantifies how much risk clients want in their investment portfolios, assigning each one a risk number from 1 to 100, with 100 being those comfortable with very aggressive portfolios. As Riskalyze chief executive Aaron Klein visited with large advisory firms, however, he began to realize that their compliance departments were plugging client information into the software to run random spot checks to ensure that investor portfolios aligned with their risk tolerance.

Klein and his partners had planned to release another product, Compliance Cloud, to perform this task someday, but someday turned into Sept. 3 as they noticed more and more firms purchasing Riskalyze to manage the task.

“This one firm, which will remain nameless, they probably have about 800 advisers, probably manage about 3,000 accounts, and they’ve got eight people who are in charge of managing those 3,000 accounts,” Klein said. “They go through and randomly spot check the accounts for problems, but Compliance Cloud will allow them to actually crunch through the risk of all those accounts every night.”

The Compliance Cloud program indexes all the data into a searchable database, and each company can go through and find any customers whose risk tolerance doesn’t match up with their risk number, Klein explained. Riskalyze’s newest software will work even if the company doesn’t have the original adviser program. Riskalyze charges $3,500 to $10,000 a month for its Compliance Cloud program. It’s adviser program costs $129 a month.

While the price difference might sound steep, Klein said that using random spot checks is a dangerous game and mistakes happen all the time. Compliance Cloud will easily pay for itself, he said, because it will help investment advisory firms avoid costly regulatory fines or restitution in civil lawsuits.

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