It is illegal for an American to own and operate a business in Cuba. But, Shona Baum of California found a way to make it happen.
Baum fell in love with a Cuban citizen and now she is carving out a new existence in Havana for herself and dozens of her Cuban employees.
Her restaurant, California Cafe, employs more than 10 people. At night musicians randomly show up, hoping to cash in themselves on tips from restaurant patrons.
“We have a whole staff here, young people that aren’t working for the state, making a lot more money,” Baum said.
Baum and her husband opened their business a year ago. They decided to move to Cuba in November 2014 after making a bold assumption that things were going to get better. Within 30 days, President Barack Obama announced normalization of relations between the communist country and the United States.
“It was amazing,” Baum said. “The two main things that have changed here, in the past two years, you can own your own business and also people can own their own houses and apartments now. So, that sort of generates the ability for people to fix things up and use their entrepreneurial energy.”
Baum said, “It is an odd time here in Cuba” where things are changing but other things remain the same.
“Our biggest issues are food shortages. We spend more than 50 percent of our revenue on just being able to keep items on our menu stocked,” Baum said. “We are stockpiling potatoes because they are hard to find.”
Baum said she loves the Cuban people, the music, culture, and their resilience. She has seen an island and it’s people transform in front of her very eyes. A transformation that has already helped so many.
“And what scares me is things might not move quickly enough, and people will lose of their enthusiasm and some of their hope,” Baum said.
Baum’s restaurant is located at Calle 19 entre N y O Vedado in Havana.