The doors of Don de la Colombiana greet guests with the vibrant sounds of Spanish music, the smell of fresh Colombian food, and a warm smile from owner Marly Machacon Villarreal.
Originally from Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, Machacon Villarreal came to the US with big ambitions. She first arrived in New Jersey, where she started out cleaning houses. Having family in Washington encouraged her to move to the state permanently. Despite living in the state for only nine months, she first worked as a singer at El Parche, a Colombian restaurant in Seattle and Tacoma. Now, she’s an entrepreneur and the sole proprietor of Don de la Colombiana.
“I’ve always been a hard worker, and when times were tough, I always reminded myself that Latinos “siempre podemos’ we always can,” Machacon Villarreal said in her native Spanish language. “We just have to do things with happiness, love, and passion.”
The restaurant opened its doors to Olympia earlier this year in October 2023 and features a wide variety of classic Colombian dishes such as empanadas, arepas, buñuelos, natural juices, and more. While the menu mainly consists of small appetizers, Machacon Villarreal plans on expanding the menu to feature more “meal-style” dishes and vegan options soon. There are gluten-free and vegetarian options available.
“Many people associate Latinos with spicy food. However, this is far from the truth; Colombian food is not spicy at all,” Machacon Villarreal said.
Most Colombian restaurants are located in Seattle or Tacoma, making it difficult for people to find Colombian food outside King County. While music has always been her passion, she decided to bring Colombian culture to Olympia to increase Latino representation in the community.
“People come in here, regardless of whether they’re Colombian or not, and they say they feel at home,” Machacon Villarreal said.
The inspiration to open a store came from her home country in Colombia, where most people use public transportation. Having a car is considered a luxury. Different street foods can be found along the bus stops for people to grab some quick bites.
The restaurant on 609 Capitol Way is in Olympia’s historic district, in front of Sylvester Park and a bus stop. When Machacon Villarreal initially saw the space, it looked neglected. However, she saw beyond that and wanted to create something amazing.
The name is inspired by a place in her home country of Colombia. There was a solutions center for people; however, no one knew the center’s name. People began to call it “Don de la Colombiana” because of a woman who worked there. She had a “don” or gift of always being helpful to everyone in the community. Machacon Villarreal hopes to bring that “don” of Colombia to Olympia.
“Despite the name ‘Don de la Colombiana,’ this restaurant is not just for Colombians,” Machacon Villarreal said. “I invite everyone in Olympia to come and get to know South American cuisine.”
Through her restaurant, she has had the opportunity to meet more Colombians and people from South America in Washington state. She has received a lot of support from the community.
“I want to leave something beautiful here,” Machacon Villarreal said. “I want to plan a seed here and see it grow. I want the Latino population in WA to grow and want people from this state to know that Latinos ‘siempre se echan para adelante’ or ‘we always move forward.’”
Cover Photo: Spinach and cheese empanadas, arepas, and tajadas maduras with a side of salsa and pico de gallo neatly arranged on a plate. (Photo by Jacquelyn Jimenez Romero).
Jacquelyn Jimenez Romero, a final-year student at the University of Washington, is pursuing a double major in journalism and public interest communication and law, societies, and justice. Additionally, she has chosen to minor in diversity and environmental studies. As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, Jimenez Romero holds a deep passion for crafting human-interest narratives that highlight and empower underrepresented communities.
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