From El Salvador to the Senate: A local business owner lives the American dream

Maria Duran first came to the United States in 1995 from El Salvador. (Courtesy Maria's Cafe)
When Duran arrived in the U.S., she began making food at home and selling it outside. (Courtesy Maria's Cafe)
Duran was eventually hired to work in the cafeteria at the Dirksen Senate Office Building. (Courtesy Maria's Cafe)
Duran even had a chance to prepare meals for the White House. (Courtesy Maria's Cafe)
Duran opened “Maria’s Cafe” in Silver Spring, Maryland, in 2019. (Courtesy Maria's Cafe)

When Maria Duran first came to the United States in 1995 from El Salvador, she was seeking a better life, and she embarked on a journey that would ultimately help her reach her American dream.

“I started making food at home and selling it outside,” Duran said.

Duran developed a passion for food and flavors when she was young, and was able to turn that passion into opportunity when she settled into her new home in the D.C. region.

During the day, Duran would go to small businesses, salons, stores, soccer fields and pretty much anywhere else people wanted her food.

In many cases, Duran would just park her car, open her trunk, put on gloves and serve plates.

It was that passion that helped Duran cultivate local connections, including some on Capitol Hill at the Dirksen Senate Office Building where she was eventually hired.

“I worked in the cafeteria for the senators, so I cooked for them,” Duran said.

Duran spent about six years working at the Dirksen cafeteria, and she was able to talk with many of the senators. She said all the lawmakers she interacted with “were very nice.”

“Everybody loved my food,” Duran said with a smile.

She even had a chance to prepare meals for the White House.

“One day, we cooked for a party for President Trump,” Duran said. “We had a Spanish dinner.”

While Duran loved her time on Capitol Hill, she couldn’t pass up the chance to open her own Silver Spring, Maryland, restaurant in 2019 called “Maria’s Cafe,” where she now sells authentic Latin American cuisine like lomo saltado (sirloin stir-fry) and pupusas.

Her restaurant first opened in 2019.

“It’s my dream,” Duran said. “It’s not easy to get a business and to stay here from early in the morning to late at night, but I do it with all my love.”

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Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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