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In 1962, when I was 8 years old, my family emigrated from Cuba to Chicago. Moving to America meant my dad’s dream of having me become a baseball player would come true. We lived on welfare for some time until my father found a job at Tartan Tray in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. My dad would give me a $1 a week to spend on baseball cards, but I spent it on hair products for the makeshift salon I operated in my parent’s apartment.
This story first appeared in the December 9, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
At 15, I joined my dad at Tartan Tray as a dishwasher, and I was thrilled at the opportunity! With my outgoing personality, I was better suited to be a server and quickly transferred out of the kitchen. I enjoyed talking to customers and I’d overflow their plates with food. I come from a Cuban-Jewish family and we love to eat! When the cashier noticed the enormous portions I doled out, my boss relocated me to the bakery, where I decorated cakes. I took pride in turning each one into a masterpiece and loved being able to express my creativity.
The food service industry taught me invaluable lessons that have helped me throughout my career. First, I had to find a profession that suited my personality. Bouncing from dishwasher to server to cake decorator, I knew that I loved interacting with different people and being artistic. I decorated those cakes like I was Picasso!
Second, I always set long-term goals for myself and focus on making my dreams a reality. At that time, my dream was to own a car at 16. I saved my money and bought a used 1966 Chevy Bel Air in bright turquoise. This was so meaningful, but I immediately vowed that my next car would be new. I’m continuously establishing new goals and challenging myself. I’ve done this throughout my career and it’s exhausting, but it helps me strive to be better.
Third, I saw how people love to feel pampered and special. Their faces would light up from the beautiful desserts I decorated. That’s why I’ve made it my motto, “If you look good, it makes me look better.”
My mission is to make women look as beautiful on the outside as they feel on the inside. I knew I was destined to go from chocolate mousse to Samy Fat Hair Mousse, but with zero calories!