Harbor City Deli: Building Three Families in the United States

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“I love this country. You have opportunity if you like to work. If you don’t….it’s just like any other country.”

Ana Alvarado came to the United States from El Salvador in 2000. Beyond joining her family in Baltimore, she had no specific plan for how her life in America would go. Ana took a job at Lexington Market, and in 2005 learned that Harbor City Deli was about to be sold. With savings tucked away for a chance like this, Ana didn’t hesitate.

Ana hadn’t planned to become a business owner, but when you look at the immaculate counter, fresh produce, and cured meats, you see she’s taken to her role. Ana sees herself as a beneficiary of the best America has to offer for an immigrant family. “This is my good luck,” she says as she looks over her two businesses.

The other, Royal Deli, she purchased in 2014. Together the two businesses are helping her raise and educate her three daughters: 2, 10 and 13. The businesses have hardly changed since she took over. They’re a means to an end that’s firmly rooted in family.

Ana has three families, “my regular family, my church family, and this family” she says, pointing to the passersby in the aisles around her businesses. Many of Ana’s customers have been coming in since they were babies. Now, some of them have babies of their own.

Ana’s approach to business is simple: work hard, be consistent, focus on the customer. In recent years, she has updated all the equipment inherited from previous owners. The menu items themselves are old favorites largely unchanged in a decade, like her best selling Turkey Club.

As Lexington Market prepares to update its facilities, Ana is optimistic about the future. Business isn’t what it was ten years ago, but Ana isn’t complaining. She sees her continued existence in the market as the result of good fortune and hard work, the latter of which is most necessary for “making something of your life, for your future”.

Whatever the market’s future holds, Ana plans to be part of it, selling sandwiches and groceries to people who have become dear friends and neighbors. It’s a kind of relationship forgotten in so many parts of America, but one which Ana sees as essential to the American character. Sometimes it’s the people who come from without who appreciate this country the most. Because of the life and opportunities it has given her, Ana is certainly one of these.