Photo Credit: Alain L. Gutiérrez

Atelier is one of the most popular and sophisticated paladars (family-owned restaurants operated out of owners’ homes) in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana. Then-First-Lady Michelle Obama dined in with her daughters during the president’s historic trip to Cuba in 2016.

Niuris Higueras Martínez, Founder of Atelier, spoke at the luncheon hosted by Global Innovation Forum in 2017.

Atelier was opened in 2011 when the Cuba government loosened the restriction on privately owned restaurants. The business has been growing since then especially after then-President Obama announced to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2014. A flood of international tourists – 4 million in 2016 among them 285,000 from the United States excluding Cuban Americans. The number of Americans visiting in 2016 is 4 times the number in 2011, according to Boston Consulting Group.

Ms. Martínez saw her business grew since its opening. For the most part, the increase is a result of American visitors, which account for over 85% of her clients. The growth of the business is also a result of the digital presence of the restaurant. As the internet is more accessible in Cuba, Ms. Martínez opened a Facebook account for Atelier, which enables tourists to make reservations if needed. In addition, Atelier is listed on TripAdvisor, one of the most popular travel and restaurant website in the world, with a high 4.5/5 rating. All these online presences make Atelier more visible to people outside of Cuba and help to boost the business.

However, there are also concerns about whether the growth of the business can continue due to the uncertainty of the U.S. policy towards Cuba. The private sector in Cuba is already being impacted as many Americans canceled their visits after President Trump announced to reverse Obama’s opening to Cuba. “It would be a major blow to us,” said Ms. Martínez, but adding that “Still, while we really need the American market, it won’t be the end of the world. We aren’t going to die.”