El Salvador Restaurant

Arturo, owner and manager of El Salvador Restaurant, for me, is the flesh and bones of the American Dream. I talked to Arturo over coffee at his El Salvador restaurant to ask about his life...


“When I think about my relationship with America, I feel like a battered wife: Yeah, he knocks me around a lot, but boy, he sure can dance.”Sarah Vowell, Take the Cannoli

Arturo, owner and manager of El Salvador Restaurant, for me, is the flesh and bones of the American Dream. I talked to Arturo over coffee at his El Salvador restaurant to ask about his life and how the restaurant came to be.  It turned out to be far more than what I expected.  His story is about surprising restraint, wisdom, devotion to family and business imagination.  Of course, of hard work too.

Bill Clinton, after spending a good amount of time in Haiti after the tragic earthquake, once remarked:

“You and I are sitting here today because at critical points in our lives, from the time we were quite young, whatever adversity we faced, we knew that there was some predictable, positive consequence that would flow forward if we did the right thing — if we studied hard, made good grades, went to college, whatever. Really poor people, people in really poor places, don’t have predictably good outcomes for good behaviors. It’s a disorienting experience. Poor countries need predictability, he says. In Haiti, we have to build systems. Systems. This makes sense. No one in Haiti seems to believe there are any reliable systems, except perhaps cell-phone coverage and mango distribution.”

Arturo saw the benefits of this “system” and made the most out of it.

May 1989,  Arturo’s first job was a dishwasher at Fitzgeralds Casino at Downtown Reno, earning $3.96 per hour. No Ingles. No family. Single and motivated, he is grateful for his first job in the U.S.  Not long after he is promoted as a food runner with an increase of thirty cents in hourly wage, “jumping around, back and forth” the three floors of Fitzgeralds.

After four months he is promoted as a “prep cook”. First setback: One of the higher ups in the kitchen, for reasons not clear, does not like Arturo, he quietly leaves the place. Disappointed but not dejected he sets out to learn how to speak english through a church volunteer, to give him a “better job security”.

By 1991,  just two years from cleaning dishes, Arturo becomes a line cook, earning $6.39/hour – not a small sum at that time. But just when things were looking good, the second setback: resentful co-worker yet again. Rather than have a hostile environment, Arturo decides to move to Peppermill Cafeteria, as a cook for employees.  By this time, he is able to speak english, and impresses his superiors at work with his kitchen skills, focus and consistency.

He works there until 1995 when his first big break opens up to work at Silver legacy’s main kitchen “where all the food for the casino is prepped.” He worked in Peppermill Casino for 7 years.

By 2000, Arturo’s sister-in-law, Racquel, first suggests starting a Mexican restaurant in Reno. Arturo digressed, “there’s too many Mexican restaurants in Reno,” and suggested starting a El Salvadorian themed restaurant.

Here’s where it gets tricky: He is offered to manage this new restaurant. He declines the offer. “Not going to work. I’d like to make my own decisions.” For many who have learned the hard way, Arturo’s restraint in turning down this opportunity is simply brilliant. He told me that it wasn’t even a hard decision to make, they were two different personalities and having worked in a number of restaurant in town, Arturo believed that someone had to have the last word.

They wanted to name it “Tony Racquel Restaurant when they weren’t even from Reno.” “I’d rather wait and save money from my day job”, he says. And save he did. This did not stop him from offering a hand in the family restaurant.

Ten years after the restaurant opened its doors, tragedy struck: Racquel, the owner of the restaurant, died. Shortly before her death, she offers Arturo full control of the restaurant in exchange for a “buy out”.  In August 1, 2010 Arturo becomes the full-fledged owner of El Salvador restaurant.  Three years later, they open their second branch at Sparks managed by his daughter, Cindy.

When he took over the restaurant, Arturo wanted to give it the best chance of success – a healthy capital backing him up in case of slower months.  He knew from experience the cyclical nature of the restaurant business, so he kept his day job –  he had two jobs for a lot of years.

He still has a day job.

The American Dream – two words often used with selling imaginary things or masked under a veil of a belief to tug the heart.  For a lot of U.S. immigrants like Arturo and the author, the American Dream is less opaque. It is the incredible economic efficiency of this country and the deep, collective appreciation of virtue  and justice.

To be judged by race or gender is simply unacceptable for the vast majority; your prospective job doesn’t hinge on how good you look. Justice is imbedded in the system and generally followed –  e.g., Fair Housing Laws, Equal Employment Law. We are repeatedly astounded by the opportunities found in this country.  A U.S. Senator once said that this country is more important than Democratic and Republican posturing. I agree.


517 Forest St. Reno, NV 89509