Guatemalan Cuisine takes root in Southwest Detroit

When you walk down Junction Street in Southwest Detroit, you can’t fail to notice a baronial building on the street. This building is home to Pollo Chapin (literally meaning Guatemalan chicken as “chapin” is what Guatemalans call each other), a Guatemalan-food-inspired restaurant. Opened in 2008, Pollo Chapin has evolved from a residential space to a welcoming cozy dine-in restaurant.

Carlos Ordetta immigrated to the United States from Guatemala, Central America. Moving to America was always a dream of his mother’s. She believed America as the Land of Opportunity. In 1999, this dream became a reality when the family moved to the U.S via Houston, Texas.

Moving to the U.S however wasn’t a walk in the park as expected. Carlos struggled with finding employment since he spoke no English at all when he first  arrived. He worked in a warehouse for many years and while there, he thought of three business ideas; opening up a carwash, buying a truck to transport merchandise, and opening up a restaurant. He consulted his mother about which business to open and she advised that he should open a restaurant. This advice seemed natural as she had spent eighteen years working as a cook in a restaurant.

Upon receiving his mother’s blessing, Carlos embarked on setting up the restaurant. His mother owned the building that houses the restaurant today. He had to first transform the space from a residential one to a restaurant environment. He then took a trip to Guatemala and spent his time trying out different dishes, consulting about recipes, and completing the research he needed to have a unique, one-of-a kind Guatemalan restaurant in Detroit. When asked why he chose to locate in Detroit of all areas, Carlos said, “ When someone thinks of Hispanic cuisines [in Metro Detroit], Southwest Detroit comes to mind instantly!”. He adds, “ I needed to make something unique and when I looked around the area, most of the restaurants were Mexican. There was nothing from Guatemala.”

The menu includes the basic American Mac-n-Cheese and Guatemalan delights like curtido, tamales, and milanesa de res. They kept on trying out the different dishes with different customers and listened to all the feedback. He kept the ones the customers loved and got rid of the ones that didn’t receive positive feedback. Throughout the years, the menu found its niche and now he has a recurring clientele. He considers his customers family. He knows most of his customers by name and always knows exactly what each one of them wants.

Pollo Chapin is among the 80 finalists of the NEIdeas 2018 competition for $10,000 business expansion grants. Carlos says that a grant will help him grow his business by enabling him to make improvements to the building to make the restaurant and neighborhood more vibrant. The money also will enable him to hire additional staff, as he currently operates the business himself with help from his wife and his two little girls – who interpret for him. “Small businesses are important to the growth of the city of Detroit because they generate more jobs and also increase the [productive use of] buildings in the city, [and, as a result] the area looks better, especially Southwest Detroit.” says Carlos.

Carlos is particularly grateful to Raquel Garcia, Global Detroit’s director of partnerships and neighborhood outreach, who  helped him with the NEIdeas application process, making him aware of the opportunity, translating documents, and coaching him on submitting an application  that is among the finalists being considered for a grant.

In fact, Global Detroit assisted approximately 150 small business entrepreneurs from across Southwest Detroit, Banglatown, Detroit, and Hamtramck in making application to the 2018  NEIdeas business expansion grant competition. By catalyzing the growth and development of immigrant entrepreneurs and connecting them with the region’s ecosystem of entrepreneurial supports, Global Detroit is building a more inclusive and prosperous region.

Global Detroit is revitalizing Metro Detroit’s economy by mobilizing its immigrant potential. We are an innovator and expert in connecting international talent with regional businesses’ unmet talent needs, catalyzing the growth and development of immigrant entrepreneurs, revitalizing neighborhoods, and building a globally-competitive and inclusive region.

By Alistair Kiyingi


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