Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Paladar- A Growing Opportunity for Cuba's Entrepreneurs

Madison Horner
Reporting from Havana, Cuba

According to an old fable, Cuba’s first privately owned restaurant was opened by a woman in her home and named “El Paladar”. For years, paladar owners made profit, under their own kitchen tables, serving tourists in an economy where the average wage is equivalent to $19 per month. As Cuban President Raul Castro makes economic reforms to a socialist system that is crumbling, the paladar is one of the many types of businesses that have become privatized.
Hector Higuera Martinez, owner of the popular French eatery Le Channonsier, has been in the business for more than 20 years.  He says the reforms make it easier to run his restaurant, which is located in a renovated 19th century Havana mansion. The private sector in Cuba still has its shortcomings.  For example, all of the markets in the city are still state run. A lack of competition and an agricultural system threatened by the black market limit the variety and availability of many food products. Higuera changes his menu every night in order to serve the French-Cuban cuisine that is popular among tourists. Higuera says he relies on friends and customers to bring him hard to find ingredients—especially spices.  Additionally, inspectors visit the paladares regularly to ensure products such as meat and produce are purchased legally. Higuera and other paladar owners must keep meticulous records in order to stay in business.
There are many paladares including Le Channsonier that have proven successful, however the restaurants are very reliant on the tourist industry.  The price of a meal is approximately $25; much too expensive for the average Cuban who earns $19 per month. Since the paladar was legalized last year, many doctors, teachers and other professionals have quit their jobs to cash in on the opportunity.  The tourist market for private restaurants is not large enough to sustain such growth. Thomas Palaia, an economics expert at the U.S. Interests section said he expects more political reforms in the future will help to sustain growth in this new private sector and stimulate the economy overall. 

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