He’s only 11, but he’s doing his part

Photo by Gabriella Canal Julian's family's restaurant, La Tintorera, in the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos restaurant
is family business

Julian Gomez, 11 years old, was standing on a dining chair in a restaurant in the Galapagos Islands, changing a light bulb.

Julian is the younger of two sons of Daisy and Hans Gomez, the owners of the restaurant and bar, La Tintorera, on the main street of the main town, Puerto Ayora, on the island of Santa Cruz.

They moved from Quito, the capital of Ecuador, to open the restaurant in September of 2011.  The restaurant has become a second home for Julian. More and more he has been helping with the business after school. He cleans tables, carries supplies around and makes sure the Foosball machine is in order.

“I try to help my mom out as much as I can,” Julian said as he jumped off the chair and went on to replace another burned out light  bulb.

Julian’s parents met in Quito.  They considered starting a restaurant there but ran into obstacles. Daisy, a short woman with long black hair and a kind smile, said it was difficult in Quito “to find a place, as well as investors.”

Hans had been living in the Galapagos for fifteen years and the couple qualified for residency, which the government regulates. So they decided to try the restaurant business in the islands.

Running a restaurant in the Galapagos Islands, a territory of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles from the mainland, can be challenging. Julian’s mother said that besides managing the staff, the bills, the bar and the customers, she must import more than half of her food and beverages. Meat and some vegetables come from farms in the highlands of Santa Cruz. .

“Importing all of the food and drink comes at a high cost,” she said. “Living here in the Galapagos is expensive. Everything costs twice as much.”

La Tintorea is on a corner on the south end of the main street in Puerto Ayora, Charles Darwin Avenue, a street lined with restaurants. La Tintorera is a colorful little place with a bamboo-thatched roof, walls bursting with the hues of red and orange, brightly painted, round  wooden tables, wide arches and exotic vegetation.

Daisy serves anything from smoky hamburgers on volcanic rocks to steamy empanadas. The children of the waitresses’ play tag between tables and Rigoberto, the dog, lazes around the entrance. The Foosball table, dart board and library of used paperbacks attract people in their 20s and 30s.

“But there are many options on this street,” Daisy said, “and so the groups of tourists that come in pick and choose.”

Tourism is the main business in the Galapagos and restaurants are the second biggest moneymakers after cruises, boat tours and water taxis. “We live off tourism,” Daisy said, “and unfortunately, this year has been very, very irregular.” It was seven o’clock on a Friday evening, Happy Hour had begun and mellow reggae music was playing for an empty restaurant.

Gabriella Canal

March and April are usually the busiest months for tourism in the Galapagos but those months were slow in 2014. There was a spurt of business in April, but then the flow of tourists dropped off in May. “I don’t understand why the levels don’t maintain themselves,” Daisy said. “We are in a constant rise and fall. But luckily, the number of locals that come in here has risen.”

School vacations in the Galapagos ended in May. With families returning home from trips, business at La Tintorera has picked up. Daisy wasn’t discouraged by the ups and downs. “All things start like this,” she said, “business will return.”

Julian runs his own side business in La Tintorera. He sells bracelets, necklaces and earrings, as well as origami-shaped like dragons that his 13-year-old brother, Sergio, makes. Julian is the salesman.

One day, Julian’s mother said, Julian took in $20 in sales. Sometimes, Julian talks up his jewelry when people come into the restaurant. Sometimes, he is off playing with friends on the street in front of the restaurant. His mother says she has tried to explain to the boys that it takes consistency to run a business.

“There are days when you sell,” she said, “and days when you don’t sell. But every day you have to stay open.”

As she spoke there were no customers in the restaurant. “Even though we are empty right now,” she said. “ I don’t close and I don’t go home. I know that the people will come.” #

2 responses to “He’s only 11, but he’s doing his part”

  1. Mira Vijay Shah Mira Shah says:

    This story is so touching and emotional. Really well written. Definitely gives me an idea of how family businesses run in the Galapagos.

  2. MT says:

    This story reflects the reality and hardship of trying to make it in a third wold country. I see an 11 year old who already has a sense of responsibility. He doesn’t expect to be given, on the contrary he eagerly and happily is a helping hand to his mother’s business, in addition to his own side sales, and he does it with pride. Very positive message to the brothers by the mother on the way she runs her business. Thank you for sharing Julian’s story.