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Hispanic Business Opening In Rolla Looks To Serve Growing Community

Kristina Colón Leininger opened Kristina's Casa in Rolla to help serve the small, but growing Hispanic community.
Jonathan Ahl
St. Louis Public Radio
Kristina Colón Leininger opened Kristina's Casa in Rolla to help serve the Hispanic community.

Hispanics make up just 3% of the population of Rolla, but that number is growing, and a new business downtown is looking to serve that community and expand its presence.

Kristina Colón Leininger, owner of Kristina’s Casa, said she decided to open the bodega after thinking about her struggles when she moved to Rolla six years ago. She said it was especially hard when it came to stocking her kitchen.

“Coming here from New York, it was really hard to find a lot of ingredients I needed to make my food. I’m Puerto Rican, so I make a lot of food at home,” Leininger said.

She said spices like guajillo peppers for chili sauce or cueritos, the pickled pork skins that can perfectly top off a tostada, were nowhere to be found in Rolla. She had to go to St. Louis or Springfield. Ordering online took a long time, was expensive and wasn’t convenient.

That’s the need Leininger thinks Kristina’s Casa can meet.

“I want the store to be inclusive. We’re going to make sure every Hispanic, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Colombian, Mexican … they all will find things here that make them feel more at home,” she said.

But it’s more than selling groceries, she said; it’s about community and raising the profile of the Hispanic community in Rolla.

“I know sometimes that there are people in the community who don’t want to either speak Spanish or play their music, or they don’t want to show who they are because they are afraid people are going to judge them or be prejudiced against them or something like that,” Leininger said.

The Hispanic population in Rolla doubled to about 1,000 between the 2000 and 2010 census, and could double again when this year’s count is tabulated. Missouri University of Science and Technology also had its largest number of Hispanic students ever enroll this fall.

“I wish there was a place like this here when I came to Rolla,” Leininger said.

Jorge Porcel, a professor of Spanish at Missouri S&T, believes the local Hispanic community is strong but needs more opportunity to be visible.

He started a Spanish language film festival on campus as part of that effort. He said the response from both the campus community and the Rolla area was surprising.

“People from the community were coming. It was something that was amazing to me, and every year it was growing,” Porcel said.

The film festival, locally owned restaurants and now the bodega are all things that can help the Hispanic community thrive and be recognized in Rolla.

“I think the bodega can make it,” Porcel said.

Leininger said: “I think we need to be represented, so people can know that we are here. And that’s also kind of why I did that, so people know we exist, we’re here, we’re in your community and we want to be here."

She said so far her business, which has been open for about a month, is exceeding expectations. She’s already sold out of some spices and has been receiving numerous requests on what to carry on her shelves.

Her official grand opening will be held on Oct. 13.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

Jonathan is the Rolla correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
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