Charlotte must seem small to Hilario Almazo.
He spent the better part of his life living in two of the biggest cities in the world before coming here in 2002. Born and raised in Mexico City, he moved to New York City where he learned to cook during his breaks at an Italian restaurant, one day at a time.
In 1989, he opened a pizza shop right down the street from the World Trade Center. But two historic tragedies made that business impossible to keep up, and he came here, where he's happy working as head chef at Arooji's Wine Room & Ristorante.
Creative Loafing: What happened at your pizza shop that made you close it down?
Hilario Almazo: I was located at 25th Street and 7th Ave. Every business all around me was completely destroyed on 9/11. It cost me $30,000 just to open back up. As soon as we got back into business, there was a blackout in NYC that turned off all the power for two days. This was all too much, and I came down here.
What are you thankful for in your career?
I am always very thankful to Livio Ingenito, the former head chef at Arooji's. I was working at another Italian restaurant in Charlotte, and I was treated horribly. I worked 12-hour shifts in the kitchen with no breaks. When he moved to the South Park location, he remembered me from working there with me, and gave me this opportunity. I will always remember what he did for me. The people here treat me great and I am very happy.
How do you spend your time off?
I am very busy here, so on my one day off I always try to spend it all with my son. Although all my cooking experience is Italian, I love Colombian food. We go to different restaurants together, and out to the movies a lot.