A Heart of Gold Warms the Hearts of Many
By Alison Grimes | Photography provided by CNY Latino
Carmen Gonzalez was a chef from a young age. Learning her mother’s recipes early in life, she started cooking by the age of 10.
Years later — nearly 30 years ago — Carmen ventured to Syracuse with her husband to reunite with family from Puerto Rico.
At that time, only a small number of Latinos lived in the area. It was difficult to enjoy cultural traditions or purchase certain ingredients to create traditional meals. To put it in perspective: the Mexican aisle at Wegmans, Price Chopper or any other supermarket didn’t exist yet.
Carmen’s in-laws filled the void with two businesses, Don Juan Cafe Restaurant and the neighborhood market, Jandy. Carmen eventually followed in their footsteps, but only after becoming familiar with Syracuse and the needs of the city.
After arriving in the new country, she enrolled in classes for English and data entry studies, which allowed her to work with a variety of organizations, including the United Way of CNY, the Syracuse Police Department and the New York State Department of Labor.
Language may have been a small barrier for her, but each experience furthered Carmen’s knowledge of the culture and the city. She quickly began to realize the needs and struggles of her community.
She mailed 100 letters a day during her tenure at the United Way, learning of programs and services offered in Syracuse, she remembered.
“I loved my colleagues,” she said.“We treated each other so well and my work was appreciated.” At the Department of Labor, Carmen worked in data entry. There, she noticed the high unemployment rate in Syracuse.
It was while she was working in city hall and the police department, administering parking ticket transactions and working in records, that she really observed the struggles her community faced. She saw drug addiction, hunger, poverty, domestic abuse and more.
“I was impacted and realized so much about the needs of our city,” Carmen said.
It didn’t take long for Carmen to begin to feel for Syracuse and the needs of the community. Being Christian, her prayers became more frequent and abundant. She began hosting prayer groups. Eventually, Carmen began preaching full time as pastor at Iglesia de Dios Church on East Laurel Street in Syracuse.
Before long, she returned to her culinary roots and brought dishes to church services and prayer groups.
Then, about a year ago, Carmen helped her son open Manny’s Cafe Restaurant in East Syracuse and move it to 523 Marcellus St. on the West side five months ago. It’s given Carmen a chance to share her mother’s recipes and serve her community. Every Wednesday morning, Carmen and four coworkers serve 50 coffees and breakfast to those in need at Catholic Charities.
Now Carmen spends her days in the restaurant, and dedicates herTuesday and Friday evenings, as well as Sundays, to her prayer group and services, in hopes of inspiring, connecting and strengthening her community.
She aspires to eventually grow the restaurant enough to serve more of the city and provide them with hope.
Carmen believes in strength of community. With faith and prayer, she hopes to help eliminate hunger, poverty and crime in Syracuse, while inspiring women to believe in themselves and follow their dreams. SWM
This article was provided by the CNY Latino newspaper, the only Hispanic-oriented publication in Central New York. The Spanish version of this article can be read in the July edition of CNY Latino, in both the traditional paper version and the digital format at cnylatinonewspaper.com.