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Stories About Spain

A Love Affair with Spain - How La Tienda Began

photos of Don Harris in 2009 and 1968Often I have been asked, “How is it that the Harris family, without a drop of Spanish blood, (that we know of), ends up being the leading source of fine Spanish food in America?”

It all goes back to our family – the ties we feel toward each other and how they in turn mirror the best of the Spanish tradition of family. We were a Navy family, with all that this entails. Ninety days after Ruth and I were married in Long Beach, and we were settling into our assignment in Washington DC, I was ordered to be the chaplain to a destroyer squadron which was bound for the Mediterranean for six months. Ruth was left among a pile of moving boxes in Norfolk. It turned out to be a blessing, as my Spanish port calls changed our lives. There, for the first time, I experienced the traditional Spanish culture where family ties are strong and children are cherished.

For some families the sailor’s life is too unpredictable and strains the family. For other families, such as ours, the unpredictability and uncertainty of the Navy way of life encourages closeness and bonding that might not be necessary in a more settled circumstance. It is a hard life, but one full of adventure. Over the course of our life in the Navy, we moved twenty-six times. Tim, our eldest was born in Virginia, Jonathan in San Diego and Christopher is our Spanish son. He even has a birth certificate from Rota in Cádiz, emblazoned with “Hijo de la Raza”!

Our kids had to fit in with classmates of many schools. Tim set the record with thirteen different schools before college. Jonathan was in three fourth grades! Thus they did not have the luxury of taking many years to build friendships, so of necessity formed them within their family. I remember many times Ruth and I would urge the boys to go out and make friends in the new neighborhood. They invariably replied, “Why? We have our brothers.”

When the Navy gave us our dream assignment to Spain, Ruth and I saw in the typical Andalucian family the same kind of family closeness and interdependence that we fostered as parents. Paradoxically our family grew strong because constant change made close relationships within the family vital. On the other hand, the Spanish family formed lasting bonds because there is no change at all. They have years – even generations – to build family ties.

Whether it is a family in Spain or America, it takes hard work and commitment to foster healthy relationships. People are people anywhere on the globe; we are all imperfect, to be sure. But with the model of a loving extended family as the ideal, it is easier to keep your eye set on the goal. One difference is that the Spanish families are quite communal and regularly sharing meals together. They also have a strong sense of hospitality for the stranger, who is treated as a friend. When we visited a Spanish family we could count on sharing tapas or a freshly prepared meal with them, either at home or at their favorite local restaurant.

When we were stationed in Spain, we elected to live with the Spanish people, rather than on the Base. We wanted to be immersed in the life of the generous Spanish people in order to experience first hand the culture which we found so appealing. We enrolled Tim in El Centro Inglés where he spent the school day with Spanish kids as well as a few English and Americans.

Tim valued his experience at the school so much that he and Amy will spend the first 6 months of 2010 in the same neighborhood where he grew up, and will send their two boys, Ben and Sam to a small school in Jerez de la Frontera. There they will spend each school day with a mix of children from Spanish and English speaking families, just as Tim experienced before.

When we were in Spain, at a moment’s notice we would pile the kids into the car (no cumbersome car seats in those days) and head north, showing them castles, Romanesque and Visigoth churches and beautiful old towns such as Trujillo, Guadalupe, Cáceres, Úbeda, Jaen, Cuenca and Soria. I must admit that sometimes their eyes glazed over as we showed them yet another church, but castles were no problem.

the Harris family in 2006Santiago de Compostela always struck a chord with our family - so much so that many years later when Jonathan was a young man in college he spent one summer walking across the north of Spain to Santiago on the pilgrimage route, Camino de Santiago. Later, he and his bride Stacey walked from León to Santiago on their honeymoon. Our youngest son, Chris, spent a summer in La Coruña as a college student, and Tim spent a summer with Spanish friends in Sevilla. (He says he spent many hours cooling off from the roasting heat by lingering in the air-conditioned El Corte Inglés!)

So we grew to be a close cohesive family with a shared love for Spain, whose culture was built on the same foundation of family as ours. When we were back in the United States we would take the boys back to Spain on military MAC flights, revisiting our old haunts and finding new people and places to enjoy. On the return flight we would load an extra suitcase with memories of Spain: those long tube glasses they use at tapas bars, ceramics and cazuelas of all sorts, María cookies and, most of all, bars of Heno de Pravia and Magno soaps whose familiar fragrance still waft through our home. A lot of other passengers were, too.

When I retired from the Navy we settled in Williamsburg. Ruth and I decided to dress up our house with lots of classic Moorish style tile to remind us of our happy years in Andalucía. We adorned our bathrooms and kitchen, our fireplace surround and dining room with classic Moorish designs reminiscent of the Alhambra.

Just about the time when our two older sons began making lives of their own after college, a serious medical situation occurred at home, which caused the family to draw even closer. As the medical crisis was resolved, we realized how much we enjoyed each other’s company and thought of ways in which we could work as a family in a common enterprise. It was the early days of the internet, and so while Tim was at work with a Virginia ham company, Jonathan, with a degree in fine arts, experimented with web design. Since the Spanish tiles were very hard to find, Jonathan posted them on the web to help others with their quest for authentic tiles. With that action, La Tienda was born, just a year after Amazon.

Soon Tim suggested adding a picture of a Jamón Serrano to our tile site, to see whether anyone would like one, if we could get them imported. The response was immediate and enthusiastic. It was clear that La Tienda had made contact with the Spanish soul.

We continue to work together. Tim, Jonathan and I share the same office; other family members have found ways to contribute on a regular basis. Our youngest son Chris never got the wandering lust out of his bones. And so he and his wife Rian travel the globe as diplomats for the US State Department, and yet keep close contact with the progress of the family company through the Internet and Skype. All of the family continues to travel the highways and byways of Spain, some more than others because there are little children to nurture. We enjoy meeting other families with small artisan businesses, and buy their products for La Tienda. We find great satisfaction in supporting their families and way of life with which we so much resonate.

In our veins may flow the blood of the Dutch, Frisians, Scots-Irish, English and Armenians – we are American, all from immigrant stock. But our hearts have absorbed the essence of Spain and we feel at home there. After all, our wanderings across the landscape of Spain reach back to 1965! We find it a source of joy to work together, and to bring you our love for traditional Spain, as expressed in their cuisine. What gives me great personal satisfaction can be summed up in an email I received just as I was writing this reflection:

My father left Spain as a refugee in 1939. Behind he left his childhood, his country, and his favorite "Galletas Marias" (Maria Cookies).… I bought a box and handed it to my father in person. For the first time since leaving Spain, at 83 years old, he enjoyed his first authentic galleta in almost 70 years. Now every night he shares one cookie with everyone present so as to conserve his treasure and enjoy the moment. Gracias La Tienda! You have not only provided us with great authentic products, excellent personal service. You have given us a wonderful family moment! – Gali Sánchez

It all goes back to family. As a young husband and father, coming from a chaotic childhood, I was inspired by the traditional Spanish family and the way they cherish children. It may not be perfect, but with all its flaws it is a good model, and one that still exists in many parts of America. It takes dedication and focus, in the culture in which we live, but it is worth it – and it is never too late to strengthen family ties.

Best wishes to you and your family,


+ Add a Comment


"Dear Don, I came upon your LaTienda as I was looking for some Spanish sausage to put in the paella I was making. I have some Spanish blood in me and two years ago finally went to Spain with my daughter. Ever since I can remember I have always wanted to go there. Well, I fell in love with the country and longing to go back there. I truly understand how you and your family feel for that country.And yes, thank you for your store. Just love looking at all your products. Will order soon."
December 2010

"Hi Don!I´m a Spanish friend of La Tienda who is living in Birmingham-Al since one year ago because of my husband job.I was reading your story and visiting your website since then because i miss so much the Spanish food.I want to thank you for your bussiness and congratulate you for your great idea ;-)Good luck and regards!Angela"
August 2011

"Dear Angela, I am delighted you found us. You are just the person we had in mind when we started La Tienda. Where is Spain do you come from? Tu amigo Don"

"Hi! I am so happy I found the site and took the time to read your story. I have ordered from La Tienda once before, a pan to make tortilla de patatas in. My husband is in the Navy and we were fortunate to live in Rota, Spain for five years!! We moved back stateside two years ago and my heart aches for Spain and my friends made there. We plan to go back again for visits but coming upon your site brought tears to my eyes. All of the ceramics and foods brought back fond memories. Thanks for your foresight in creating something so wonderful! Sincerely,
April Spaniol"
March 2012

"It is certainly hard to move back stateside. Much as I love America, there is a part of my heart that remains in Spain. Your comments about the food and ceramics are exactly why we started La Tienda. I am delighted you found us. Why don't you drive down to Williamsburg from Charlottesville. I would enjoy meeting you -- it would be fun to trade stories. We leave for Spain on Monday and will be back after Semana Santa -- about mid April. I hope to see you after that! Tu amigo, Don"

"Thank you so much Don for creating this company so that I may have a taste of where I come from. My mother's family is from Pontevedra, and my father's is from Linares. We truly appreciate your buisness! Someday the entire family will relocate back to our roots to live.Saludos,Felipe"
December 2011

"Thank you for taking the time to write. We also enjoy having the taste of Spain even when we cannot be over there. Pontevedra is such a great port – the best of Galicia. Linares is quite a distance away - I'd love to know how your parents met! Best wishes for the new year. Saludos, Don"

"Dear Don, my name is Manuela, I'm from Spain, from Andalucia, my parents and relative are all spanish. I have been living in America for 4 years. I miss my country very much, and can't wait to go back, my husband is from Puerto Rico, and our plans are to move to Spain in 2 years time. Thank you so much for falling in love with Spain, and for La Tienda, today I was feeling homesick, thinking about christmas in Spain, with my family and friends whom I miss so much,so I started looking for an online spanish store to see if I could order mantecados !!! here in America, and came across La Tienda !!! I'm so happy , it's like having a little piece of Spain here in America. Thank you so much, God bless you and your family. Muchas gracias !!!"
November 2014

"Just found your website. Very helpful. I have never been to Spain, but definitely have it on my to do list. I was inlove with a man for years who was from Spain. His stories were so romantic and loving. He said my name, Ronda, is what attracted him to me, for that is where he was from. Unfortunately he is no longer with us. But i do plan to travel Spain in his memory."
September 2018

"Thank you for your note Ronda. The town of Ronda is truly a spectacular place, you should definitely make a trip to visit!"

"Thank you thank you thank you to you and your family for the accessibility to such important (and delicious) cultural treasures! I’ve only just discovered your site today thanks to an article in the Wall Street Journal! I also have learned through a recent DNA test that I have Spanish blood! I traveled to Spain in the mid 1980’s and felt so at home there. Reading your blogs have inspired me on many levels — not only to travel back to this extraordinary country Spain, but also to cultivate family connection. Thank you!!"
March 2019

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Reflexiones en Español

Read in English
Enamorados de España- los Comienzos de La Tienda

photos of Don Harris in 2009 and 1968A menudo me preguntan “¿Cómo es que la familia Harris, sin gota de sangre española en sus venas (que sepamos) ha acabado siendo el principal distribuidor de comida española en América?”

La respuesta es nuestra familia- los lazos que nos unen y la manera en que estos lazos reflejan lo más preciado de la tradición española de la familia. Nosotros fuimos una familia de la Armada de EE.UU. con todo lo que ello conlleva. Noventa días después de que Ruth y yo nos casáramos en Long Beach, y mientras nos preparábamos para asentarnos en Washington DC adonde habíamos sido destinados, recibí órdenes de convertirme en el capellán de un escuadrón de destructores que zarpaba para el Mediterráneo en una misión de seis meses. Ruth tuvo que quedarse sola entre pilas de cajas de mudanza en Norfolk. Esta misión resultó ser una bendición, puesto que las escalas que hice en puertos españoles nos cambiaron la vida. Allí, por primera vez, experimenté la cultura tradicional española en la que los lazos familiares son fuertes y los niños son considerados el mayor tesoro.

Para algunas familias la vida de un marinero es demasiado impredecible y provoca mucha tensión. Para otras familias, como la nuestra, la falta de predicción y certeza para la vida cotidiana que dicta la Armada nos anima a acercarnos y a unirnos de una manera quizá innecesaria en circunstancias más estables. Es una vida dura, pero también llena de aventura. En el curso de nuestra vida en la Armada, nos mudamos veintiséis veces. Tim, nuestro hijo mayor nació en Virginia, Jonathan en San Diego y Christopher es el hijo que nació en España, ¡aún posee el certificado de nacimiento expedido en Rota (Cádiz) con el lema de “Hijo de la Raza”!

Nuestros hijos tuvieron que adaptarse a los compañeros con los que convivieron en muy diversas escuelas. Tim ostenta el récord por haber asistido a trece escuelas diferentes antes de ingresar en la universidad. ¡Jonathan estuvo en tres clases de cuarto curso! No pudieron permitirse el lujo de tomarse muchos años para entablar amistades, así que la necesidad hizo que entablaran estas amistades dentro del seno familiar. Recuerdo muchas veces que Ruth y yo animábamos a los niños a que salieran a hacer amigos en el nuevo vecindario. Y ellos siempre contestaban, “¿Por qué? Si ya tenemos a nuestros hermanos.”

Cuando la Armada cumplió nuestro sueño destinándonos a España, Ruth y yo vimos en la familia tradicional andaluza el mismo tipo de cercanía e interdependencia que nosotros albergábamos como padres. Paradójicamente nuestra familia se hizo más fuerte porque los continuos cambios provocaban que la cercanía en nuestras relaciones dentro de la familia fueran vitales. De forma opuesta, la familia española crea vínculos permanentes puesto que no existe cambio alguno. Ellos cuentan con años- incluso con generaciones- para crear esos vínculos de familia.

Independientemente de que la familia sea española o americana, se requiere un gran esfuerzo y compromiso para albergar unas buenas relaciones. La gente es como es en cualquier parte del planeta; todos somos imperfectos, en una palabra. Pero con el modelo de una afectuosa gran familia como ideal, es más fácil mantenerse centrado en el objetivo. A diferencia de las americanas, las familias españolas son muy comunitarias y se reúnen normalmente para las comidas. También tienen un gran sentido de la hospitalidad para con los forasteros a los que tratan como amigos. Cuando visitábamos a una familia española de manera inequívoca compartían unas tapas o una comida recién preparada con nosotros, ya fuera en casa o en su restaurante preferido.

Mientras que estuvimos destinados en España, elegimos vivir entre españoles y no en la Base. Deseábamos sumergirnos en la vida de la generosa gente española con el fin de vivir en primera persona la cultura que tanto nos seducía. Matriculamos a Tim en El Centro Inglés en donde pasaba el día entre niños españoles y con algunos ingleses y americanos.

Tim apreció tanto aquella experiencia escolar que Amy y él han decidido pasar los primeros seis meses de 2010 en la misma zona en la que él creció e inscribir a sus dos hijos, Ben y Sam en una pequeña escuela en Jerez de la Frontera. Allí pasarán los días de colegio con una mezcla de niños de familias de habla española e inglesa, tal como anteriormente hiciera Tim.

Mientras vivíamos en España, en un periquete metíamos a los niños en el coche (sin esos pesados asientos de seguridad) y conducíamos hacia el norte, mostrándoles castillos, iglesias románicas y góticas y preciosas ciudades antiguas como Trujillo, Guadalupe, Cáceres, Úbeda, Jaén, Cuenca o Soria. Debo admitir que a veces su mirada se tornaba vidriosa cuando les llevábamos a ver por enésima vez otra iglesia, pero los castillos no suponían problema.

the Harris family in 2006Santiago de Compostela siempre ha ocupado un lugar especial en nuestro corazón; tanto que muchos años después cuando Jonathan era un joven universitario pasó un verano haciendo la ruta norte del Camino de Santiago. Más tarde, recién casado con Stacey caminaron desde León a Santiago en su luna de miel. Nuestro hijo menor, Chris, pasó un verano en La Coruña como estudiante universitario, y Tim pasó un verano en casa de unos amigos sevillanos (¡Dice que pasó horas y horas deambulando en las tiendas climatizadas de El Corte Inglés tratando de refrescarse del ardiente calor!)

Así nos convertimos en una familia de estrechos vínculos y con un amor compartido por España cuya cultura está fundamentada en los mismos pilares que los nuestros. Una vez de regreso en los Estados Unidos, llevábamos a los niños a España en vuelos militares (MAC flights) volviendo a nuestros viejos recuerdos y conociendo a nuevas gentes y lugares de los que disfrutar. Para el vuelo de vuelta llenábamos una maleta de más con recuerdos de España: esos vasos de tubo que usan en los bares de tapas, cerámicas y cazuelas de todo tipo, galletas María y, sobre todo, pastillas de jabón Heno de Pravia y Magno cuyas fragancias tan familiares aún llenan nuestra casa. Muchos otros pasajeros hacían lo mismo.

Cuando me jubilé de la Armada nos establecimos en Williamsburg. Ruth y yo decidimos adornar nuestra casa con gran número de azulejos tradicionales de estilo morisco y así recordar nuestros felices años en Andalucía. Alicatamos nuestros cuartos de baño y cocina, el exterior de nuestra chimenea y el comedor con diseños morunos inspirados en la Alhambra.

Justo en la época en la que nuestros dos hijos mayores iniciaron una vida independiente después de sus años de universidad, sobrevino una grave situación de carácter médico en nuestro hogar, lo que provocó que la familia se uniera aún más como una piña. Una vez resuelta la situación, nos dimos cuenta de lo mucho que gozábamos de la compañía mutua y pensamos en maneras en las que podríamos trabajar como familia en una empresa común. Eran los principios de internet y mientras que Tim trabajaba en una compañía jamonera de Virginia, Jonathan, licenciado en Bellas Artes, empezó a experimentar con diseños en la red. Ya que los azulejos españoles eran difíciles d conseguir, Jonathan los expuso en fotos en internet con la idea de ayudar a otros en su búsqueda de auténticos azulejos. Con esa acción, nació La Tienda, sólo un año después que Amazon.

Poco más tarde Tim sugirió añadir una foto de un Jamón Serrano en nuestra página web de azulejos, para comprobar si alguien estaría interesado en ellos si pudiéramos importar los. La respuesta fue inmediata y entusiasta. Estaba claro que La Tienda había tomado contacto con el alma española.

Continuamos trabajando juntos. Tim, Jonathan y yo compartimos la misma oficina; otros miembros de la familia también han hallado la manera de colaborar de forma asidua. Nuestro hijo menor, Chris, nunca abandonó el gusto por los viajes. Así pues viaja por el mundo con su esposa, Rian, trabajando en el cuerpo diplomático del Departamento de Estado de los EE.UU. y aún así mantiene estrecho contacto con el desarrollo de la empresa familiar a través de Internet y Skype. Toda la familia continúa viajando por las autopistas y carreteras de España, algunos más que otros debido a que hay pequeños a los que atender. Nos deleita conocer a otras familias de pequeñas empresas artesanas y compramos sus productos para La Tienda. Nos resulta gratificante el poder apoyar a familias y formas de vida con las que tanto compartimos.

En nuestras venas corre sangre holandesa, frisona, escocesa-irlandesa, inglesa y armenia: somos americanos, procedemos de inmigrantes. Pero nuestro corazón ha absorbido la esencia de España y allí nos sentimos como en casa. ¡Después de todo nuestro vagar por tierras de España lleva sucediendo desde 1965! Para nosotros es una fuente de gozo trabajar juntos y llevarles a Uds. nuestro amor por la España tradicional reflejada en su cocina. Lo que me produce una enorme satisfacción personal puede resumirse en un correo electrónico que recibí mientras escribía esta reflexión:

“Mi padre abandonó España como refugiado político en 1939. Detrás dejó su infancia, su país y sus galletas preferidas “Galletas María”. Encargué una caja y se la entregué a mi padre en persona. A sus 83 años, por primera vez desde que abandonara España hace casi 70 años, ha podido saborear su primera auténtica galleta. Ahora cada noche reparte una galleta entre los presentes para conservar su tesoro y disfrutar el momento. ¡Gracias, La Tienda! No sólo nos han acercado un gran producto auténtico y prestado un servicio personal excelente. Nos han proporcionado unos momentos familiares estupendos!” Gali Sánchez

Todo tiene que ver con la familia. Cuando yo era un joven marido y padre con una infancia caótica a sus espaldas, me dejé embriagar por las tradiciones de la familia española y la forma de amar a sus hijos. Puede que no sea perfecta, pero a pesar de todos sus inconvenientes sigue siendo un buen modelo; modelo que aún existe en muchas zonas de América. Se necesita dedicación y enfoque en la cultura en la que vivimos, pero merece la pena- y nunca es tarde para reforzar los lazos de familia.

Con mis mejores deseos para Ud. y su familia,


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