Virginia Ramos, aka the Tamale Lady, serves guests at her 60th birthday party at the Eagle Bar.

The Tamale Lady needs your money. Virginia Ramos — the woman known as the Tamale Lady because she has been selling tamales in bars around the city for years —  announced Thursday that she’s launching a fundraising campaign to open a brick and mortar location in the Mission. Ramos’ business fell into trouble in recent weeks when Zeitgeist, the bar where she most often sold her goods, announced it could no longer permit Ramos to sell tamales on their property because her food wasn’t made in a commercial kitchen and therefore wasn’t up to code.

To achieve her goal, Ramos is launching a 60-day Indiegogo campaign with the hopes of raising $155,000. That money will help Ramos secure a space in the Mission, District 9 Supervisor David Campos said Thursday.

“If everybody who has ever bought a tamale from Virginia donates, she can do it,” said Campos, who was interpreting for Ramos at a news conference at the Latin America Club.

At the conference, Campos explained that Ramos has been saving money from years of selling tamales and that the money asked on Indiegogo is the additional money needed to open a place. Anything received on top of that amount will go to Jamestown Community Center, a Mission District non-profit dedicated to providing youth services.

Jamestown’s Executive Director Claudia Jasin said Ramos was “a model entrepreneur by continually giving back to community.”

Barbary Consulting is also offering Ramos pro-bono consulting to assist in registering a new business and Bank of San Francisco has volunteered free banking services.

“It wouldn’t be San Francisco without the Tamale Lady,” Alex Clemens of Barbary Coast Consulting said.

Ramos has been selling her tamales at bars since the 1990s and has developed numerous relationships with San Francisco’s late night denizens, including many at-risk youth. Her work selling tamales and offering free counseling to at-risk youth inspired the documentary Our Lady of Tamale.

Campos referred to Ramos throughout the event as a “San Francisco institution.” He added that his office is in discussions with the Department of Public Health to see how he can help other food vendors who like Ramos don’t cook in a commercial kitchen and may not have proper permits.

“We want to protect public health and public safety,” Campos said, “but we are committed to helping those folks,” he said referring to other food vendors.

Ramos has yet to find a space for her future shop, but said she’s confident that she’ll receive enough financial support to make her dreams come true.

“People have heart here,” Ramos said.

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Daniel Hirsch is a freelance writer who has been living in the Mission since 2009. When he's not contributing to Mission Local, he's writing plays, working as an extra for HBO, and/or walking to the top of Bernal Hill.

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  1. Well said Chris!
    Chutzpah is the perfect word to describe this woman; she breaks the law by not having the proper permits let alone other code violations, & now she is fundraising. She’s an insult to any/everyone who does the right thing.
    As for Campos, he needs to do more to stop this hemorrhage of violence that is a daily occurrence in District 9 instead of immortalizing someone who breaks the law.

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    1. Chris, Pamela,
      Please check out this Virginia’s story. She comes from adversity and has worked hard to better her family. Most see her story as a very positive one and a local institution.
      I’ll will gladly contribute!

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  2. How about putting that money towards helping people in our community who are genuinely hungry? I will consider donating when there are no more people living on our streets or going hungry at night.

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