La Tienda Founder Don Harris will be awarded Spain’s Official Cross of the Order of Civil Merit next month in Washington, D.C.
The Order of Civil Merit is one of the highest honors in Spain, and will be bestowed on behalf of King Juan Carlos I by Ambassador Ramón Gil-Casares. The award’s U.S. equivalent would be the National Medal of Humanities.
The award recognizes Harris’ efforts to promote the people, culture and foods of Spain in the United States, according to a press release. Harris’ Williamsburg-based business, La Tienda, imports Spanish foods and goods, sold through catalogs, a website and at their retail store on Jamestown Road.
“To receive this recognition from the King of Spain on behalf of his people is most meaningful,” Harris said. “During my lifetime, my family and I have been honored to know many close and loving families throughout Spain. I am grateful that we are able to work with these good people and to honor their artisan traditions through La Tienda.”
Harris, a graduate of the College of William & Mary, fell in love with Spanish culture in 1965. He was a young U.S. Navy chaplain when his ship made port calls in Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Valencia and Rota. When he was stationed at the Rota Naval Base in the 1970s, his wife Ruth moved their young family to El Puerto de Santa María.
After Harris’ retirement from the Navy, the family founded La Tienda in 1996. The emergence of Internet business motivated Don and sons Jonathan and Tim to create one of the first e-commerce sites offering Spanish goods, which weren’t well-known in the U.S. Their site was the first to sell Jamón Serrano, a dry cured ham.
Harris will be awarded Spain’s Order of Civil Merit, shown above.
The business now offers more than 800 gourmet foods and artisanal goods from Spain, with warehouses in Virginia and Alicante, Spain that ship throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico, Canada and Europe. The family makes regular trips to meet with vendors in Spain.
In 2009, Harris received the Admiral Pedro Menéndez Friend of Spain Award from the Society of Spain. Last year, he published a book about Spain titled, “The Heart of Spain, Families and Food.”
He has also spread his love for Spanish culture with the launch this year of a free educational website, Learning @ La Tienda.
The site features Spanish Cuisine flash cards with pronunciation guides recorded by a native of Madrid, along with Harris’ reflections and photographs from his travels.
Harris will receive the Order of Civil Merit on Oct. 11 at the residence of the Gil-Casares in Washington, D.C. and will be followed with a reception that also marks Spain’s national holiday, El Día de la Hispanidad.