Conversations with Women: Activist and Entrepreneur Angela Salamanca
“The life that I have right now is not a life that I could have ever imagined”
I met Angela for the first time at a coffee shop early in the morning on March 3rd of this year. She had agreed to meet with me for an interview about her journey as a business owner. You see Angela is the owner of one of my favorite restaurants in downtown Raleigh called Centro. I contacted her a few weeks before and was super excited (and nervous) to meet her. The day we met I was waiting for her at a coffee shop and as soon as she recognized me she immediately greeted me with a warm hug and then proceeded to offer me half of her pastry. I felt connected with her instantly (and not just because she fed me) but because she had this warmness about her that reminded me of Latin America and my fellow latinos. I would later find out that she would be extending the same generosity and warmness in answering my questions throughout the interview…
Angela Salamanca opened Centro for the first time in September 2017 and is located in the heart of downtown Raleigh. The restaurant serves fresh, authentic Mexican cuisine and also has a mezcal bar on the second floor of the restaurant. However, even though they mainly offer Mexican dishes the food and the restaurant itself is very diverse. As soon as you walk in the door you are mesmerized by the art, all the bold colors and decorations that represent Mexican culture. The dishes are equally as colorful and thoughtful as the design on the walls. However, both the culture of the restaurant and the food being offered are more than just a representation of Mexican culture. They are a representation of Angela Salamanca; a diverse strong woman. She is well known as an entrepreneur but during this interview I discovered that she is also an artist, a chef, an activist, a fighter and most importantly a mother and a nurturer. When asked about her perspective on success she responded:
“I know that my purpose in life is not just to cook or to run a business. I think that my purpose in life is to nurture. So I try to find ways to do that, I do it at the restaurant, I do it with my kids and in other areas. So in that way I can expand myself”
Angela was born in Colombia and after many twists and turns she migrated to Raleigh NC out of all places. When asked about her background and about her experience as an immigrant in the USA she said:
“I think that as an immigrant then you don't have a choice. At some point you’re going to mix with other cultures. The fear that is represented in discrimination is mainly the fear of the unknown and it's a completely normal human experience. But we shouldn't let that dictate who we are and what we do. Instead we should acknowledge it and be open to learn and grow”
A few years later, prompted by her Uncle Carlos, she decided to open up a Mexican restaurant in the heart of Raleigh. Having graduated from UNC with an Art degree she was actually able to bring some of her art to decorate the restaurant. In the interview we talk about one piece in particular: a huge banner with the word COMUNIDAD written all across. This piece hangs in the walls of Centro and it describes the atmosphere of the place perfectly. Everything inside that restaurant says COMMUNITY. For example the day I went to visit the restaurant to take pictures for the blog, Angela introduced me to everybody who worked there. They all greeted me with a warm smile and by my name. Angela also told me that the yellow wall that is covered with the word Centro, written in different shapes and colors, was actually painted by the employees with the help of the customers. To me that is comunidad.
In the interview Angela also talks about her views on diversity, immigration and the Time’s Up movement. She said:
“I feel like I do get a chance to make a difference. So the choices that I make really count. What I do for my employees counts. How I speak about being an immigrant really counts. How I represent being Colombian counts, all of those things make a difference. I think that as a business owner I get to make certain choices that have an impact”
We also talked about challenges she has faced throughout her career as well as the lessons that she learned along the way. When asked about her challenges as a female owner she said:
“I have surrounded myself with a really amazing, strong
group of women. A lot of the people that work for me are women or transgender women. So I do surround myself with that female energy. When you're in a position of leadership, you don't really have to settle into something that doesn't work for you. You get to build the kind of work environment that you want. I think that’s super powerful”
We also talked about Angela’s biggest passion: her two daughters. It was her two daughters that drove Angela to work as hard as she did in order to have a successful restaurant and career. She said: "I felt like this was an opportunity to set up a future for the kids that was going to be a lot more sustainable. So yea that’s what really drove me, it was not the passion for hospitality and cooking. I love it but it was not that, it was the kids. It was the necessity to make something happen for the kids".
Throughout the interview Angela describes many challenges that could’ve knocked her down and caused her to give up on her goals. However, not only did she survive, she excelled through it all. She brought everything she had to offer to the table and created something beautiful. Angela, like all women, is fighter and a nurturer. She is strong and warm. The interview is broken down in five categories but it's ultimately one (kinda long) conversation (cant blame me, I did say at first that we connected and I love me some deep conversations) I hope that this interview about her life’s story will inspire you, as much as it inspired me, to keep following your dreams even in the face of challenges.