Our interviewee today is a very active member of our community. His name is Elmer Palma.
Tell me how you started your life in the United States? “I think I should say the usual phrase that it was not easy. It seems incredible how 28 years have passed since I arrived in Stamford, Connecticut, from Juatipa, Guatemala. I was only fifteen years old, but full of dreams and eager to be successful. I started working as a dishwasher in a restaurant, but I was attracted by the chef’s work, who prepared dishes that I did not know and, of course, the speed and precision with which he made them. That is why after a few days of work, I asked to be given the opportunity to learn the trade. The chef was reluctant because he thought I could not do it. So, I proposed that if in a month I did not learn then I would quit and not bother him again. After a couple of weeks, I told him that he could take a break and enjoy a coffee while I took charge of the kitchen. Thank God, who can do everything and is in everything I do; [with Him] guiding me, everything went well. The chef realized that I had the capacity and from that moment, he completely changed with me. Day after day, he taught me everything he knew, giving me affection and strengthening my values for work and honesty. In summary, he treated me like a son when I needed just that to move on. When you have dreams and goals set, people tell you negative things, but that cannot stop you; you must continue with more determination.”
When did you start your business as a restaurant owner? “Time passed and one day, in that same restaurant, I received the proposal to be a partner in a Greek food restaurant in Ridgefield. I said to myself, ‘I have nothing to lose and everything to gain if this society is successful.’ The restaurant was successful. A few years passed, and my goal changed because I wanted to grow, have a chain of restaurants. My partner told me that he wanted to retire so I decided it was time to become independent and look for my own way. I found a piece of land in Danbury and made an offer, but another person also offered and acquired it for a small difference. At first, I felt a bit disappointed but very close to that same place, I saw for sale what is now my restaurant. I spoke with the owner and we quickly agreed on a price. I then understood that it was the will of God and that is how He works; it is not what we want, it is what is best for us. God looks for a way to put us on the right path, even though we believe that it is all wrong. There were many obstacles with building permits and other bureaucratic matters, but God did not abandon me. I was able to overcome every obstacle with His help and finally managed to open. Today, I am almost 11 years with a restaurant that is open 24 hours a day, offering a menu with great ethnic diversity. We have American, Greek, Italian and, of course, Latin food – something for each palate and always prioritizing customer service. In our restaurant, they can order breakfast at 10 PM or eat a steak at 10 AM! The client decides, is taken care of and that is why they recommend us. On the other hand, I am very happy to be a source of employment for the community.”
Do you feel that the restaurant is your greatest achievement? “My greatest achievement is to have God in my life. He gave me an incredible woman who supports me in everything I do. Her name is Deysy Palma and my three children are my motivation in life: Grayce, Jeremy and Nathan. I try to teach them that everything is possible in this great country. I even managed to be a City Council member, something that sounds easy but is not. I want our Latino community to be successful and stand out for the positive things we do, showing that we have come to build and to give back to this community that welcomed us with our honest work.”
What would your final message be? “God bless America. Life is beautiful if we give our 100 percent; nothing is impossible when the Creator is on our side.”
María Danniella Gutiérrez-Salem practiced law in Venezuela before going after her own American Dream and becoming a writer in the United States. mdgutier@gmail.