In recent months, Cuba’s economy has begun to shift dramatically. Last week, President Obama lifted the ban on Cuban cigars and rum for American travelers, and direct flights from Miami to Havana are cheaper than ever. Now, a new video from the YouTube channel Seeker Stories details exactly how Cuban citizens have been able to dip their toes into capitalist waters and break into the private restaurant business.
The short film follows Niuris Isabel Higueras Martínez, the owner and operator of Atelier in Havana. Though Martínez has spent her entire life in the kitchen, the restaurant owner considers herself a “cook” and not a chef, since she never received any formal culinary training.
Though the number of private restaurants has grown exponentially in Cuba following a number of reforms in 2011, a decade ago being a business owner wasn’t a respectable profession in the country, according to Martínez. More recently, a community of roughly 100 private restaurants has "exploded" to over 1,600.
Martinez goes on to detail the struggles of being a “private” restaurant owner in Cuba (chiefly the scarcity of ingredients and equipment, and the lack of support from the government), as well as the benefits of running a successful restaurant. Since relations between the US and Cuba began to open up again, Martinez says her restaurant has grown by 50 percent. Atelier now employees 15 workers, and Martinez is confident that eventually her restaurant will serve as many Cubans and foreign tourists.
"We never had private property in Cuba. Private companies were never spoken about,” she says. “It’s like a child who has to be born, eat, walk, crawl, and then run.”