If you ever ask a Peruvian over 30 years old about the 1980s, you are be bound to hear a horror story. The economic turmoil of the decade forced many Peruvians to consider fleeing the country. That was the case for Eduardo Laos, then a young entrepreneur.
Meet the man behind one of Vancouver's only Peruvian restaurants
For Peruvians, the second half of the 1980s was not the era of New Wave music, outrageous hairstyles and Atari video games. Instead, it was a time marked by extreme economic recession, scarcity of fundamental products like milk or bread, and politically motivated violence. If you ever ask a Peruvian over 30 years old about the 1980s, you are be bound to hear a horror story. The economic turmoil of the decade forced many Peruvians to consider fleeing the country. That was the case for Eduardo Laos, then a young entrepreneur. After being granted permanent residency in 1988, Eduardo came to Canada for a reconnaissance trip. But he ultimately decided to go back to Peru.
“In Peru I had at least a few things going on for myself. In Canada, I had nothing,” he explains.
Fourteen years after first considering the idea of leaving Peru, Laos found himself again entertaining the possibility. Alan García, Peru’s president between 1985 and 1990, had just announced his intention of again running for president, and early polls indicated he had a great chance of winning.
Laos, then married and a father of three, wouldn't risk the possibility of his children going through all the sufferinghe experienced in his youth. So he packed his suitcaseand left Lima, Peru’s capital, to resettle in Vancouver.
In Vancouver, Laos started making a living out of importing Peruvian produce and seasonings. Then, three years ago, he and his family decided to open Silvestre, one of the two Peruvian food restaurants in Vancouver and the only one located downtown.
Located a few meters from the famous Gastown steam clock, Silvestre is a Peruvian food restaurant, a deli, and an ice cream parlour. The restaurant boasts a vast menu that ranges from traditional Peruvian desserts to the iconic Ceviche, a dish made out of raw fish marinated in lemon juice. There are even options for the more adventurous costumers: anticuchos, for example, are Peruvian-style skewers made from cow's heart marinated in dried red chili.
Today Eduardo, who is 51 years old, spends most of his time donning an apron and serving customers. He is officially the restaurant’s administrator, but he is always ready to step in when an extra hand is needed. So it’s not uncommon to see him wiping tables, serving ice creams or taking orders in English or Spanish.
Silvestre’s main costumers are members of Vancouver’s Latin American community. Peruvian food, despiteits prominence in Latin America and parts of theUnited States, is mostly unknown in Canada.
When Canadians go to Silvestre, it is usually following an invitation by a Latin American friend. But when that happens, Eduardo is able to introduce his home country to his new costumers and tell them about Peruvian culture, history, and traditions.
“After eating here and learning about our culture, costumers become potential tourists,” Eduardo says. “I see myself as a cultural ambassador.”
Vancouver’s Latin American community is comprised of a little less than 10,000 people, around 1.5 per cent of the city’s total population. It is truly remarkable that Silvestre has managed to survive for three years, Eduardo says. In order to keep the business afloat, Eduardo and his family spend most of their time working at the restaurant.
“We work seven days a week, 364 days a year — the restaurant only closes during Christmas Day,” Eduardo said. “It takes a lot of sacrifice.”
Eduardo has known about the sacrifices parents sometimes have to make to ensure a better future for their children even before he first entertained the possibility of leaving Peru. Two generations before him, his grandparents left their home country, China, to resettle in Peru. And now it’s his turn to sacrifice himself for the well-being of his family in a new country.
“I miss the Peruvian lifestyle, having more time to share with family and friends,” he says. “Sometimes I can’t find myself here.”
But watching his three children grow up and accomplish their dreams gives him the strength to press on. His two older kids go to university here in British Columbia, and the third one has just gained admission to Simon Fraser University.
“They are making a name for themselves here,” Eduardo says, proudly.