The smells from a kitchen can take you to another country. At Denver’s Maria Empanada, owner Lorena Cantarovici, says she feels that every day walking into her restaurants.
“You’re being transported to another part of the world, in this case, South America,” Cantarovici said. “My grandmother, my mother, cooking together, a Sunday afternoon doing all the processes of an empanada together.”
When she hears it from a customer, she can directly see the impact that restaurants like hers can have.
“And when they do the bite, and you can see that kind of validation…and they tell me thank you, this is exactly how my grandmother used to make it,” Cantarovici said. “And when that happens, oh my gosh. It is kind of an explosion of feelings in my body.”
Originally from Argentina, Cantarovici came to the U.S. with an American dream.
“I came to this country with $300 in my pocket and a backpack and nothing of English,” Cantarovici said.
She found the restaurant industry, like so many others who immigrate to the U.S. It’s actually the most common industry in the country for Hispanic women.
“It’s kind of the first step for a lot of people. The point is once you are in the restaurant industry, many like I did, you fall in love,” Cantarovici said.
The word unstoppable is one she uses often. It’s what she held onto to go from an employee to an owner.
“As an immigrant, I take this as an ambassador of my country. I need to make something good,” Cantarovici said.
In 2030, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects primary Spanish speakers to account for 1 out of every five workers in the labor force, and currently, Hispanic Americans continue to fill crucial workforce gaps, critical to the U.S. economy. As their populations grow, so will their attribution to the country’s economic growth.
For men, the most common industry is construction, and Jesus Dominguez climbed his way up.
“A lot of the people that come over to the United States, you’re here by yourself. So when you have a community of Hispanics that have your back and are willing to help you out, it’s like a family away from your family,” Dominguez said. “I really see it when I’m out here working how big of a community we are. I was born in Chihuahua Mexico and we migrated here to the United States when I was eight years old.”
He started working in the industry when he was just 17 years old doing drywall.
“I became a citizen, and I was able to have a better opportunity of working,” Dominguez said. “I started out as an apprentice, so I started out all the way at the bottom, I went through my four years of my apprenticeship program. I became a journeyman, then I became a crew leader, and recently I’ve been promoted to field manager.”
Dominguez wants other Hispanic and Latino people to see that growth is possible.
“I feel like I want to teach somebody else how to do that. I want other people to grow as well,” Dominguez said.
While the industry may have been a safety net for so many coming to this country, there is leadership opportunity beyond the entry-level job.
“Don’t give up and take advantage of every opportunity that’s out there. You never know which of those opportunities is going to lead to something better,” Dominguez said.
It’s a two-way street; their personal success, they say, is also amplifying the American economy.