Meet Paul Saldana: A chef turned developer who found his way from Ecuador to the Berkshires
ACCENTS: THE VOICES OF OUR IMMIGRANT NEIGHBORS IN THE BERKSHIRES
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PITTSFIELD — Paul Saldana would have been a pilot if joining the Ecuadorian Air Force hadn’t been beyond his means.
OK, sure, as a boy in Azogues, Ecuador, young Paul’s real dream was to become a midfield star of his country’s most illustrious soccer team: Barcelona.
But next to the many hours of fútbol practice and pick-up games — “My happiest childhood memories” — he had studied physics and mathematics to be able to qualify for military flight training.
That didn’t work out.
Saldana, owner of Diplacon Builders in Pittsfield, explains that in 1995 joining Ecuador’s Air Force meant he had to pay his way in. Economic times were hard. His parents Luis, a police sergeant, and Mariana couldn’t afford it.
“My father and mother worked very hard to give us everything we wanted in Ecuador,” Saldana says. “I was ambitious. To become a pilot, that was my dream. When I found out that would not happen I decided to move to New York to get a different dream.”
Still a teenager, he started out his new life as a dishwasher in Manhattan. Also still ambitious, he followed the advice of a chef in one of his restaurants to go to chef school himself.
He trained at the French Culinary Institute (now known as the International Culinary Center). After graduating in 2000, he got hired as a chef by Serena Bass, whose company planned, catered and otherwise facilitated glitzy events for the rich and famous.
“Jennifer Lopez, Hugo Boss, Vanity Fair,” are some of the names Saldana mentions as clients for whom he cooked. As a soccer fanatic he speaks with solemn reverence about the Lincoln Center wedding party he worked of Edson Arantes do Nascimento’s daughter.
Pelé’s daughter, in other words. To many, Brazil’s Pelé is the world’s best soccer player ever.
“I met him!” Saldana says. “He came into the kitchen to thank us and talk to us.”
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Serena Bass fielded two teams for two events in Manhattan. One team set up for Fashion Week in midtown’s Bryant Park. The other was preparing to serve guests of fashion brand Hugo Boss at the Windows on the World restaurant on top of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.
Saldana was assigned to Bryant Park.
“I lost a lot of friends,” he says. “That was the sad part. That made me decide to come to Berkshire County.”
The size, the quiet and the natural beauty around Pittsfield remind him of his hometown Azogues, he says.
Saldana has worked hard to become a part of the community. He is an associate member of Pittsfield’s Community Development Board. Last year he was recognized as a “best young leader” in the Berkshires by being named to the annual 40 Under Forty list. Currently 39, he still qualifies.
Last week was a sad one for Saldana. Donald Davis, the man he considers his mentor in starting and growing Diplacon Builders, passed away unexpectedly. The company’s Facebook page pays tribute to Davis in English and Spanish.
Paul Saldana remains ambitious. He talks about adding the buying, renovating and reselling of properties to his repertoire. “Flipping houses, yes, that’s what they call it.”
He also reveals that at some point in the future he will reopen a new version of Sabor Bar & Grill, the restaurant and nightclub he once ran on Wendell Avenue. “But without the nightclub.”
Soccer remains his passion. He still glows with pride when he talks about representing his province Cañar more than 20 years ago in a match against the professionals of Ecuador’s Barcelona (from the city of Guayaquil).
When he came to Pittsfield he started his own Barcelona team in a competition between Berkshire towns.
“We had Brazilians, players from Mexico, San Salvador and we had a great soccer player from Guatemala,” Saldana says. “We became champions four times.”
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