Raquela “Rocky” Serber believes in serendipity, the notion that chance encounters can change a person’s path for the better. The 35-year-old entrepreneur hasn’t walked a smooth road in her life, but has always trusted her gut and let fate point her in the right direction—and it’s worked. In June, she achieved her dream by opening Elita Specialty Market & Kitchen at Stanley Marketplace.
The butcher shop and fast-casual restaurant specializes in responsibly sourced meats; house-made dips, pickles, and sauces; hand-made sausages; ready-to-heat seasoned vegetables and proteins; locally made organic breads; and other Mediterranean and Latin specialty items. Elita’s lunch and dinner menu features flavorful dishes like Peruvian cheesesteak sandwiches, al pastor chipotle hummus bowls, and lamb sausage flatbreads. “Every single thing is made from scratch—we’re picking herbs, doing a last little squeeze of lemon and really nice olive oil, a little pinch of our house spice mix. It’s very humble food, to be honest, but it’s a humble dish that looks like a beauty queen,” says Serber.
Serber’s journey to Elita wasn’t easy. She grew up in Mexico, not far from the United States border. Her mother died from breast cancer when Serber was just seven years old, and her father didn’t really know what to do with her thereafter, shipping her off to stay with various relatives and family friends. Then, two years later, when Serber was nine, her father was murdered by a disgruntled employee. “By the time I was 10, I had probably lived in 11 different homes,” she says.
As a girl, Serber spent a lot of time in the kitchen with her Aunt Irene, a Tunisian woman she later learned was her father’s ex-wife. While cooking with Aunt Irene, Serber developed a deep love for Mediterranean food, which seemed so simple when compared to the Mexican cuisine she grew up eating. “In Mexico, the food has so many steps—the sauces, the salsas. Women start cooking early in the morning for lunch and dinner. With Aunt Irene, it was a different approach. We’d visit one of the nicest grocery stores in Los Angeles and we’d buy four or five things for the day and make this stuff that was so much less complicated. That really opened my eyes,” Serber says.
When Serber was 10, a young Israeli man who lived near Aunt Irene adopted her. She lived with his family in Los Angeles until she graduated from high school, then moved to Denver to study culinary arts and food service management at Johnson & Wales University.
Around the time she finished college, Serber’s adopted family moved to Israel. She joined them, learned Hebrew, and opened a thriving Mexican catering company, which she owned for six years. Despite her success in Israel, she felt called to return to Colorado, so she packed up and moved across the ocean again. Back in Denver, Serber managed a catering company and later a butcher shop, but nothing felt quite right, she says.
Serber decided to take time off to re-evaluate her goals. She enrolled in business classes at Mi Casa Resource Center and began working as a Lyft driver. One night, while driving, serendipity came into play. Serber received a late-night request for a ride from a nearby hospital. She contemplated declining the ride request, since it was late and she was concerned about safety, but ultimately decided to accept. The man who got into her car that night was Javi Perez, an emergency room doctor who also owns Cheluna Brewing Co. at Stanley Marketplace. The two had an instant connection. “We probably talked for an hour in front of his house. I told him about my dream of marrying the cultures of Mediterranean and Mexican food, and that I was just looking for the opportunity for it to blossom. He was like, ‘I will help you however you need.’ And we’ve been friends ever since,” she says.
A month later, Serber got a phone call asking if she would help open Safta at the Source Hotel & Market Hall. While working there, she got another call asking if she’d be interested in running the Juniper Pig butcher shop at Stanley Marketplace. She accepted, then spent the next two years managing the specialty market. Earlier this spring, Serber bought the business, relaunching it as Elita in early June. “It was just so synchronistic,” she says. “I had been to Stanely once and I fell in love with this little shop, and then I met Javi. We had this connection. And then all of a sudden, I’m being asked to run this place. When things are meant to happen, just like water, you follow their path.”
Today, Serber is building her business on kindness and compassion. When she spotted a young woman cleaning and doing maintenance at Stanley Marketplace, Serber took the woman under her wing and taught her how to cook; now, she’s Elita’s lead prep cook. Serber also gives out her personal cell phone number to any customer who wants it, encouraging them to call or text her with questions as they starting cook at home.
Serber hopes the food and atmosphere at Elita will invoke eye-opening, travel-like cultural experiences through cuisine. And so far, it seems to be working—people are flocking there, despite the ongoing virus crisis. “It was an insane time to buy a business, right in the middle of the pandemic,” she says. “You’re going to jump in and the pool might be empty, or you might start swimming. Thank goodness we’re swimming.”