Coming Back to Cuba

Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz
Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz


by Fernando Ravsberg

HAVANA TIMES — Mauricio has a diploma in economics and is a graduate of the Hotel Sevilla catering school, but he hadn’t been able to practice his profession in Cuba. In 2003, his brother, who was already living in Spain, offered to help him leave the country. “I was working as a cabbie without a license, risking getting into trouble, so I decided the best thing was to leave.” In Spain, “I found what I was looking for; employment opportunities and a means of develop professionally. There was no crisis at the time and plenty of work in the hotel sector. You could quit one job and find yourself working at another within a week.”

Mauricio’s restaurant is called ‘Toros y Tapas’. Photo: Raquel Pérez Díaz

He recalls it “was difficult to get used to the job search process. In Cuba, you never have to go door to door to leave your CV. It put me off a bit, until I realized this was how things worked and that I would starve if I didn’t do this. So, I went to bars and restaurants, leaving them my info and waiting for them to call me. This is what people are doing here now with the self-employed, young men looking for work come to my door every day. That was unthinkable before.”

The first clash Mauricio had in Spain had to do with the pace of work in hotel businesses. “The work that 2 or 3 people do in Cuba is done by 1 person in Spain. The salaries aren’t similar, but people work quickly there, very quickly. I tell the young people who work with me here about this but they find it hard to pick up the pace. I adapted myself to that pace to the point that nothing bothers me more than having a cook drag their feet. That’s something I learned there.”

Mauricio is grateful to Spain for the tools it gave him. “I brought back all of the knowledge I picked up there, innovative ideas at the business and professional levels. And I learned everything by the book. Whenever they asked me, I would always say I knew how to do it and then I would go on the Internet at night to find out how a dish was prepared. I would find a recipe for 4 people and would prepare enough for 60 people the next day.”

The Return

Mauricio recalls that “I was working as assistant chef in the kitchen of a hotel in Ibiza when my brother called to tell me he had visited Cuba and seen a house where a restaurant could be set up. He asked me if I was willing to go back to run the business. I told him to give me a week to think about it. I’d been there for 14 years and it was a difficult step to take, but I finally said yes.”

They chose Cuba “because the cuisine I’d learned is the one everyone knows in Spain but very few people do in Cuba. I’ve worked throughout Spain and learned regional dishes. In my restaurant, we serve Madrid-style tripe, which only two places in Cuba prepare. We’re the only ones offering boar head or Iberian pork.” Though it’s always a question of adapting to those products one can find on the island, “the menu includes seafood, fish, pork and rabbit, all prepared differently from what Cubans are used to.”

Mauricio studied economics and graduated at the Hotel Sevilla Catering School in Havana. Photo: Raquel Pérez Díaz

The business is doing better than what we expected. “We’d expected a few months of losses, as is typical of any business that’s just starting out, but we haven’t had losses to date. We’re growing little by little, there aren’t that many people with money out there and there are more and more restaurants.” However, despite all this, he acknowledges that, in Cuba, “you can do more with less money. In Madrid, I wouldn’t have been able to own a restaurant in an area of town like this. Miramar is like Velazquez or Salamanca.”

“You get used to living here again, even though it bothers you that you can’t find certain things,” he says, mentioning the Internet. “That whole business of having Internet on your cell and being able to look for anything you need. I also miss my friends, like I missed my friends from here when I went to Spain. Now, I find some of my old friends have gotten married or left the country. You start from scratch again.”

Mauricio says that “coming back home isn’t a complex process. You go to the consulate, fill out the forms and then come back here. You have to have someone take you in while you find a home, in my case it was my mother. You can also bring a container with the things you’ve bought abroad.”

Feelings, however, are more complicated than paperwork. “Coming back feels strange. Though you’ve been away for many years, a few months after returning, it feels as though you never left. It’s a strange feeling, it’s being back in your country. Though some things bother you, you can’t help feel that you’re back home.”

5 thoughts on “Coming Back to Cuba

  • Yes, he should draw a picture because his words make no sense. Cute name by the way.

  • Hahahahahahah of course..he got them to come back!!!…does he need to draw you a picture?

  • You are applauding HT for publishing an article that highlights how a Cuban who left Castros’ Cuba in order to improve his life, worked hard in Spain learning how to use the tools of capitalism, returns to Socialist Cuba, and using capitalist skills, becomes a success. You think this is a positive article about Castros’ Cuba?

  • Great story as I got into being an entrepreneur at age 40 and have never looked back. Worked seven days a week, 14 hours a day the first year. You have a greater talent than I did and look forward to seeing you prosper and flourish. As with me, I employed over a dozen workers who were unemployed and so have given back generously to my brethren as I know you do as well. Best of luck! By the way, you’re getting great revues via the internet and I’ll follow you on facebook. When I get to Cuba will be sure to eat a great meal.

  • Finally a positive article about Cuba. Need more of these I think Havana Times!!

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