Connie Chauca

Connie Chauca

“I was born and raised in Peru. I was working a customer service job when my husband got the opportunity to come to the United States for work in Chicago.

My husband is a chef and although I was scared to move because I didn’t speak English or have any family or friends in the United States, I agreed to come because I wanted to support his dream.

We agreed to stay for two years, but have been here for thirteen years.

After living in Chicago for a while, I wanted to do work that I enjoyed. I’ve always loved cooking and told my husband I wanted to make Peruvian empanadas and juices at home and sell them on the street.

He told me we could cook the food together, but I needed to be careful because I needed permits to do that. I told him we could start by selling the empanadas and juices to our friends, so that’s what we did.

Our friends loved the food, and kept ordering more, they also told other people about it. One day, I had to transport the food and I was so nervous I was shaking because I didn’t speak English very well, but I took a deep breath and said to myself, ‘Connie, it’s your time.’

I had a friend help me by writing a greeting and list of the food I had, in English on a piece of paper, which I used to communicate with people.

When I dropped the food off, there were always other people who wanted food, so I decided to bring extra food with me. By that time, I learned how to introduce myself and let people know I was selling Peruvian empanadas and desserts in English.

Before we knew it, we had lots of customers and had started a business out of our home, which inspired us to open a restaurant.

Chicago is a beautiful city, but it was too expensive for us as first-time business owners. My husband had family in Baltimore, so we started looking into opening a restaurant here.

After doing our research, we knew it would be affordable for us, so we moved to Baltimore in February of 2013. We opened our casual fine dining restaurant, Puerto 511 Cocina Peruana in 2014.

We serve contemporary and traditional Peruvian food at Puerto 511, like ceviche and paella, but I always had the dream of opening a restaurant that was centered around empanadas.

Seventeen months ago, I was walking with my two sons and saw a beautiful space that had recently become available on a corner in downtown Baltimore, near lots of businesses, and I knew it would be perfect for Andina.

I went into the business office that day to let them know I was interested in the property and within a month, I was able to get the space.

I thank God because I had the right people to help me. I prayed for the restaurant, but God provided more than I prayed for, and I got everything I needed quickly.

The Latino Economic Development Center and Catalina Rodriguez Lima, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs helped me get capital, permits and the other things I needed to open the business.

Organizations like these are very important because they provide support for aspiring entrepreneurs who are underrepresented in the business community. Everyone has a story and history that adds value to the community.

I love Baltimore and I love having my business here. It’s a great place to have a business because it is growing. There are more businesses, hotels, and other attractions here since I came in 2013.

We are close to New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Delaware and have tourists visit from those cities and others. We have to continue to build the city and have more places for them to go.

My hope for the future of Baltimore’s economy is that it will continue to grow. There are so many buildings here for entrepreneurs to start businesses. I would also like to see more parks and spaces for children and pets, which will make more people want to live in the city. 

It’s a great city, which is why I stayed here and opened Andina here. My restaurant is named in honor of the women from the Andes like my mother and grandmother.

Cooking is very important in my culture, our mothers, fathers, and grandmothers teach us how to cook at a young age, especially the girls.

When I was ten years old my mother and father taught me how to cook lomo saltado, which is on our menu at Andina.

My grandmother could cook, she was a nurse, and she owned a store, so I learned about having a business from helping at her mini market. She was able to do this because she moved to Lima, the capital of Peru, where there were more opportunities for her and her family.

During my last year of high school, my teacher asked our class what our dreams were after we graduated.

My dream was to be a veterinarian and I went to college and studied veterinary medicine for a year before I had to leave.

My parents got a divorce and I had to work to help my mother pay the bills and support my siblings. College was too expensive, so I couldn’t do both. I decided to wait to fulfill that dream.

Then, I got married and supported my husband’s dream and decided to put mine on hold again. When I saw the perfect location for Andina, I decided to fulfill my dream of opening a restaurant centered around Peruvian empanadas, juices, and desserts.

I knew it was my time and I decided to stop waiting to live my dreams. I have the support, resources, and opportunity to do it, so I made it happen.

I told my son that when he starts high school in five years, I will start college. In the meantime, I will work on improving my English so that when the time comes, I am ready to fulfill my dream of earning a degree.”

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