Leer en Español

On the west end of Columbia Pike, near Four Mile Run, sits a small shopping center best known as the home of the Goodwill Retail Store. But on the other end of that shopping center sits two family-owned small businesses that have called the Pike home for quite some time: Café Sazón and Cassiel’s Hair Salon.

Café Sazón is owned by Claudia Salazar and Cassiel’s is owned by her mother, Eva Sejas. Our staff has had the chance to get to know Claudia and Café Sazón pretty well over the past year as they were the first restaurant to join CPRO’s “Buy a Nurse Lunch” program, but we were interested in learning more about what it has been like for both her and her mother to run side-by-side businesses on Columbia Pike. What we found was a beautiful story of hardship and triumph, disappointments and blessings, a story that truly embodies the “American Dream.”

In 1989, at the age of 43, Eva moved to the United States from Bolivia where she had worked as a hair stylist since she was just 12 years old. In the US she was unable to find the same work without a license, so she took a series of jobs to make ends meet and support her young daughters, Claudia and Adriana. She spent several years babysitting and cleaning houses until she could afford to take the necessary classes to receive her cosmetology license.

She found her way to a salon and cosmetology school on Columbia Pike, the very same salon that would later become Cassiel’s. What should have been a 6-month course took Eva just 3 months to complete. She was quickly offered a job nearby, but Eva turned it down in favor of a job in Vienna, VA, as she didn’t want to take any clients away from the salon. It wasn’t long, though, before the owners asked her to return to help teach other students.

In 1999, the owners of the salon and school decided to sell their location on Columbia Pike to focus on other salons and they hoped Eva would be the one to take over. The owners were so adamant that they even helped her purchase the business.

“I didn’t have enough money, but God is great,” says Eva. “I asked Anita (the owner), ‘why me?’ She had other people she could have sold to, but she said ‘I have never met a person as resilient and loyal as you.’”

Eva’s loyalty was a common theme in her life. She believes that when you have nothing else, you still have your word and that putting good into the world would bring good back to you.
“My word is more valuable than any contract,” she says. “If I sign a document, the ink may fade, but my word won’t.”

She told us a story of when she was a young girl in Bolivia. An older woman in her neighborhood saw that she was struggling, and even though the woman didn’t have much herself, she shared her bread with her and gave her a place to sleep. She has often thought of that woman and kept her in her prayers every night, even though she has since passed away.

“I think of her often when someone comes to me needing help,” says Eva. “And I will always do what I can to help anyone who needs it because I wouldn’t be here if someone hadn’t done that for me.”

Eva named her salon Cassiel’s after her granddaughter, Claudia’s daughter.

“Family is important to my mother,” says Claudia. “She came here to make a better life for her family. She helped me raise my daughter. And she treats everyone who works for her like family.”

Cassiel’s was open for 10 years next to a small restaurant, called the Golden Chicken, which closed in 2009. Eva was approached to see if she was interested in the space and expanding her salon. At the time, Eva’s daughter Adriana had recently graduated from college with a degree in architecture so Eva asked Adriana if she was interested in supervising the design and construction of a new cafe. In 2011, Café Sazón opened and Adriana and a friend, Tommy Shen, ran the cafe for the first few years alongside chef Leonel Garcia, who still works for Café Sazón today.

When Adriana found full-time work with an architecture firm, Claudia stepped in to run Café Sazón. At the time, she was working for a bank helping clients purchase their own businesses, so when the opportunity to run her own presented itself, she took it.

“I was an accountant helping other small businesses for many years. Now it’s nice to be able to hire my own accountant,” she says laughing.

When she took over the café, she noticed that most of the customers were Hispanic residents of Columbia Pike. And many of the family members were from different regions of Central and South America, such as a father from Honduras and mother from El Salvador. Much of the staff also hailed from various Hispanic countries.

The menu began to evolve to include favorite dishes recommended from the staff and customers to become the eclectic mix it is today.

“It has become a place where everyone can find a little taste of home,” says Claudia proudly.

When asked if they enjoy running businesses side-by-side on Columbia Pike, they laugh together and say in unison “YES!”

“It is comforting to always have that support system right next door,” Claudia says. “If the credit card machine breaks down in the salon, I can come over and help. And if I need someone to go get supplies when we run low on a busy night, my mom is right there willing to do whatever I need. She’s even washed dishes at the end of the night to help our staff get home to their families earlier.”
And when asked if they would change anything about their journey or businesses, the two said “no” in unison as well.

“People say ‘you own businesses, you must be rich!’ but everything we have we put back into the business and supporting our employees,” says Eva. “The people in our lives are everything to us, they are family. And every struggle we faced has given us the ability to take care of our family.”