It could have been a recipe for failure – a foreign land, a confusing language and an uncertain future. And yet, the timid 11-year old girl knew in her heart that someday her American dream would come true.
“I only knew one word of English,” Aliona Kutsiy – now 23 and a Tri-Cities resident – recalls her apprehensive introduction to the U.S when she first arrived. “I only spoke Moldovan and my family went to a Russian church. I had to learn Russian and English,” she explains that if she wanted to communicate with the congregation and schoolmates she had to learn both.
Determined to master both languages in the new country, the brunette gained friends and a reputation for being a very good baker. As a little girl in Alexandreni, Moldova, Aliona had learned her beginning culinary skills early.
“Where we came from it’s OK to leave kids home alone,” the oldest of five sisters explains the difference in cultures. “I’d bake while mom and dad were at work.” Smiling at the memory of being only 7-years old back then, she says with a laugh, “I’d practice because when they were home they’d make us do dishes.”
Aliona’s dream of opening a bakery someday seemed heaven-sent when Igor, also an immigrant from Moldova, walked into her life at her sister’s wedding in Tacoma, Wash. The two “clicked” in many ways, including understanding how it had felt to be a child immigrant.
“It was horrible when we arrived,” Igor Kutsiy recalls his feelings as an 8-year old coming to America in 1998. “We stayed at our cousins house for about a month, then we found an apartment in East Pasco and it had cockroaches – and my dad wanted to go back.”
But his family stayed and improved their lifestyle even though Igor often longed for the rural life and the country he had left behind. But in time he learned to speak English and adjust to his parents’ new venture.
Igor’s childhood story resonated with Aliona at their first meeting. His American dream also echoed hers when her soon-to-be fiancé shared his vision of wanting a restaurant. He saw their future in the Northwest community where he had been raised.
Together, the two decided to write their own script for their life in America. The husband and wife left Tacoma for the Tri-Cities where his family still lived.
“We saved our money and lived with his parents,” Aliona reminisces about the shared sacrifice to achieve their dream. “Igor and I both worked two fulltime jobs –he was working in flooring and expedited delivery across the country.”
Aliona burned the candle at both ends as a Certified Nursing Assistant and as an employee at the Coyote Ridge prison in Connell. Saving for the future also meant parting with some acreage they owned in Pasco and their second car, a Lexis SUV.
“We kept the yellow van that we call the ‘school bus,’” Aliona chuckles at the huge vehicle she drives now, one they use for deliveries.
Nevertheless, this determined couple – and parents of a 4-year old daughter – see the sacrifice for opportunity as worth the struggle. In April they opened Aliona’s Euro-Bake on Road 68 in Pasco.
But it’s the loyal customers that are the most rewarding part about seeing their dream come true – customers who want fresh pastries and desserts made with no preservatives, the best cream and real butter. Some visitors stay for lunch where the soup and piroshky (meat sandwich) are Igor’s trademark.
“When people come back and they say thanks and then take our business cards ... “ Aliona pauses with emotion. “And reading all the nice comments on Facebook, I’m shocked!”
Even so, Igor and Aliona know that besides their long hours, perseverance and courage to make their dream a reality, there has been one more very special ingredient they have added to the mix.
“We pray every morning,” says Aliona quietly. “That’s our rule before we touch anything in the bakery.”
With their business growing far beyond their expectations, it appears faith in God is an important part of their recipe for the American dream.
Psalm 37:4-5 “Take delight in the Lord and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him and he will help you.” (NLT)
If you have a story idea for Light Notes, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Lucy on Twitter @LucyLuginbill