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Carlos Leo of Spoonabilities: “Do good in life because you will be rewarded”

Be a good person, be honest, and always treat others with respect. Do good in life because you will be rewarded. Study, learn, and prepare yourself so you can get a good paying job and great opportunities in the marketplace. Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke […]

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Be a good person, be honest, and always treat others with respect.

Do good in life because you will be rewarded.

Study, learn, and prepare yourself so you can get a good paying job and great opportunities in the marketplace.


Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.

As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carlos Leo.

Carlos is from the Dominican Republic on the beautiful island of Española in the Caribbean — the land of happy, warm & friendly people, and the birthplace of the Merengue and Bachata dances. The Dominican Republic has the most flavorful and tasty dishes with deep influences from Africa, from indigenous Los Tainos, and from the Spanish colonization.

When Carlos decided to write about his story, he realized that his life always has been around delicious food made with a lot of the love from his family, and through food is that Carlos is able to tell you a little bit about himself.

Carlos was born in a small town called Bani, situated 30 minutes south of the capital of Santo Domingo. His oldest memory is from an early age when he was living in a quaint neighborhood where everyone was friends and felt like extended family. During that time, our society was so safe in which we were able to just open the door and walk into each other’s houses, sit down, eat meals, and share histories.

Carlos life always revolved around food and there was always an excuse to get together. He is very proud of his heritage and he talks about his family’s mastery in the kitchen. Carlos’s father has Chinese roots and he would make the most amazing food and one of his specialty is “Chofan” aka Dominican-style fried rice. The most surprising part was that for as involved as the dishes looked and tasted, his father didn’t take more than 30 minutes to pull something together. His mother Aurora is where Carlos got the talent to create gourmet dishes. Aurora would create new dishes with the most amazing flavor combinations.

Carlos’s life is full of women who taught him valuable lessons which made him become the man he is today. His favorite dishes are sancocho (stew/soup), arroz con leche (sweet rice), and of course a lot of dishes with rice and beans in every possible way you can imagine. Unfortunately, Carlos never learned how to cook until he moved to the United States. When Carlos first moved to the USA, he ate a lot of frozen food. After a while, he got bored of that, not to mention the low nutritional value. Carlos started to watch all the Food Network programs on TV, and began to cook for himself. At this same time, he met Geoffrey and had a very willing “guinea pig” to test all his cooking skills on.

On the more personal side, Carlos grew up in a very Latin culture where sexual identification was not accepted openly back then in the Dominican society. This was one of the reasons why he moved to the USA — looking for a different environment where he could grow as a person, be free in his expression, and search for the happiness within himself.

After Carlos received his college degree in marketing, he started to work in sales for three years. But his dream was to move to the United States and work for a multinational company servicing the Latin American market. One day after he visited Miami, he decided to quit his well-paying job in Dominican Republic and move to the USA looking for the American dream. Like most immigrant stories, the beginning of the American dream can be a nightmare.

Carlos’s first job in the USA was cleaning houses, then working as a front desk agent in a luxury condominium in South Beach. Then after four years, Carlos found that the American dream was still alive when he received his first big opportunity to join one of largest hospitality supply companies in their sales department as a Territory Manager. From the moment he started working for that company, his talent started to bring results and after the first year he was awarded “Salesman of the year” and from that moment on he received several awards during his almost fifteen years employment, including three times nominated for the same award that he previously won.

At this current moment, Carlos is pursuing his new dream to become a famous food blogger, food photographer, content creator for brands, and recipe developer.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in a small town called Bani, situated 30 minutes south of Santo Domingo. My oldest memory is from an early age when I was living in a quaint neighborhood where everyone was friends and felt like extended family. During that time, our society was so safe in which we were able to just open the door and walk into each other’s houses, sit down, eat meals, and share histories. My family had a beauty salon and a flower shop and I grew up meeting a lot of great people and learning about business. At some point my family tapped into the catering business. I was extremely shy and I had troubles growing up; getting bullied every day. It was hard but it helped me to become a stronger person and fight to become the best human being and successful in everything that I set my goals. Also, I had a strong support system with my family and they always had my back.

Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?

I was somebody who I said I would never leave my country, but during my last trip to Miami in 2001, I discovered how much happiness I felt being in a country where I can be myself and I realized I have so much to offer the world. And I felt that DR was too small and I needed to expand my wings and share with the world all that I have to offer. Back then I was a closeted gay man living in a country with a strong Latin culture and I was not really happy. I made the move to immigrate to the USA to look for my happiness and find the person inside me that was missing in order to feel complete.

Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?

I came to the US right after 9–11 and the environment was a bit tense due to the high security level. I decided to move to the US in March in 2002. The first several months was a mixed combination of feelings because although I was learning how to live in a different country and different culture, the most difficult part was my lack of how to communicate with others with my mediocre English. Fortunately, everyone that I met was very graceful, patient, and supportive.

During the first four months, I lived in four different places and in one of those places I was told to leave. It was a very difficult time and was around a few people who made my life a bit sour for short period of time. But I was eventually blessed to find some great people who helped me along the way and I’m very thankful.

I was privileged and blessed that during the first six months, I received my work permit and my first job. Although it was an extremely stressful time during post 9–11, I received my permanent green card and five years later my citizenship. My experience coming to this country of opportunity was positive and in hindsight was easy to get adjusted to a new life.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?

Yes, I’m extremely grateful of my friend Bill who supported me unconditionally through my beginning steps navigating into a new country. His trust and emotional support was a key to keep me calm and faith through this process. Another person who was and still is a monumental support in my life is my husband Geoffrey. Without him I don’t think I would have been able to survive the stressful process getting my green card and later my citizenship. Geoffrey’s support made me a better man and pushed me to keep striving to achieve my goals. He is my rock and my happiness.

So how are things going today?

I’m doing great and very hopeful that in the upcoming months things will be turning into a better place. In March of 2017, I was at the height of my career winning several awards at my previous company. But like everyone, I was affected by the pandemic and I lost my job in September of 2019.

I was blessed that during that time several companies approached me interested to hire me. It didn’t take that long before a family owned company that manufactures linen in USA offered me the opportunity to join their team. It has been hard to adapt to changes but I’m very happy that I landed in an extraordinary company with American made products and a great story.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Every year I dedicate time to volunteer with the National LGBTQ Task Force for a fundraising event to help a good cause for the LGBTQ community. We also make monthly or annual donations to several other non-profit organizations.

I’m a food photographer and during the pandemic I saw a lot of restaurants and people in the food industry going through horrible times. Through our food blog at www.Spoonabilities.com and Instagram account @Spoonabilities I offered my photography services for free to those business that were struggling.

You have firsthand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest improving the system?

Create a faster system to reduce the length of the stressful time while applicants are waiting for documents.

Create more clear, simple, and less overwhelming requirements.

Create a counsel office to give advice how to approach the whole process.

Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.

Work hard and be smart.

Don’t give up.

Be a good person, be honest, and always treat others with respect.

Do good in life because you will be rewarded.

Study, learn, and prepare yourself so you can get a good paying job and great opportunities in the marketplace.

We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?

The people — Even with the challenging time that this society is currently in with so many different personalities and views, I believe the greatest thing in America is the people; “The American people.”

Young people — There is a new generation of young people with great ideas and passion to make bold changes to have a better future for our kids and future generations.

USA is still the greatest country on Earth. The USA gives the opportunity to people from other countries to pursue the American dream.

New leaders — There’s a new crop of new leaders with bright ideas for a better country.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I have many people that I would love to meet but I really admire Hillary Clinton. She has devoted her life to be a public servant and she fought to improve the lives of children and supported the LGBTQ community. She has been judged very harsh because she is a woman and for the imagined threat that she represents to different groups. But no matter what, she keeps fighting for people.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

Follow my food blog www.Spoonabilities.com where you will find Mediterranean, Dominican, and ethnically diverse recipes, along with those we re-imagine from restaurants we discover. We strive to include food health benefits, interesting facts, and appetizing photographs with every recipe. You can also find a variety of select, small-batch, gourmet foods you can order for yourself, or as a gift for family and friends.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


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