GNTC Preparing Future of Culinary Locally, Globally
(Northwest Georgia) – Twenty-two years ago, Carmen Guzman and her husband followed a path. A journey which saw them migrate from Mexico City, Mexico to the United States. With only three changes of clothes and no literacy in the English language Guzman hoped for a better life for her family.
And today, two decades later, it is her family that is the driving force behind making a dream come true. The 53-year-old Guzman and her family now operate Rossville, Georgia’s newest restaurant, La Familia (or, The Family) Mexican Restaurant.
Celebrating a birthday February 27, Guzman helped cut the ribbon on a present her entire family has worked day and night on for months. La Familia held its Grand Opening February 26.
Guzman earned her Culinary Arts degree from Georgia Northwestern Technical College’s (GNTC) Floyd County Campus in 2014. Her daughter, Paulina Martinez Diaz, is the General Manager of La Familia. Also working at the restaurant are Diaz’ brothers, Moises Guzman, Josh Guzman, and Manuel Martinez and his, wife, Fatima.
“We didn’t have the capital to start a restaurant,” said Diaz in a recent interview. “It’s definitely been a miracle.” From working full-time jobs during the day and then working until 2 or 3 in the morning doing renovations and repairs themselves, Guzman, Diaz, and the entire family put in the manual labor to make the restaurant happen. They had to paint, install sheetrock, rebuild booths, install plumbing, and more, just to get La Familia online and operational.
Now, the family who put in the hours working day and night, have quit their original full-time jobs to make La Familia their full-time priority. “We worked really hard for this place and I don’t regret it at all,” said Guzman. “We came with nothing in March of 1994 to America from Mexico City. We worked very hard from 1994 to 2015. My husband washed dishes in a Mexican restaurant in Savannah and I ran the cash register. We saved up money for six months and then I went back to Mexico City to get Manuel and Paulina. We all four moved to Dalton and lived there eight years and then moved to Ringgold. My husband started working in construction in 1995.”
Later this year, LaFamilia Mexican Restaurant plans to begin live music and karaoke each week. A patio is also in the works to be added to business. The family also plans to host fundraising events for local charities, including giving a portion of proceeds on a given day to benefit particular organizations, in the near future.
Guzman may have picked up on some of the culinary world’s giving spirit first-hand while attending GNTC. Among the projects the program hosted in 2015 was a specially catered event off-campus. The college’s Culinary Arts Director Chef Greg Paulson had his program prepare a luncheon for senior citizens early last year as part of a community development project in Rome, Georgia.
Paulson has been with the program since the ribbon-cutting in 2010. Before coming to GNTC to help build the Culinary Arts program, Paulson spent two decades serving as the Executive Chef of the John Dominis Restaurant in Honolulu, Hawaii; the Mayflower Park Hotel in Seattle, Washington; and the Coosa Country Club in Rome, Georgia.
The well-traveled chef also encourages his students to do this same. An international education initiative is taking place between GNTC, Savannah Technical College, and a Technical College System of Georgia partner school; Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) in Ireland. The three colleges are joining forces to offer Georgia culinary arts students a unique opportunity to participate in a culinary arts summer school later this year. Highly experienced faculty and professionals from across the food industry will direct practical and theoretical sessions and lead field trips to sites of culinary, cultural, and social significance.
“Growing up in my hometown, there was a travel agency with a large marquee that stated ‘See the world before you Leave it,’” said Paulson. “That was a very impressionable declaration for me and I have genuinely always guided my career path based on that statement. Because of that, I implore all of my students to travel and discover the vast culinary experiences, both regional and international.”
GNTC offers a diploma in Culinary Arts. Those who enter the program learn everything from basic business skills to culinary principles to leadership. Students take their culinary lab courses in the Woodlee Building on the Floyd County Campus. With more than 7,300-square feet of operating space, the facility contains a dining room, office, storage space, and state-of-the-art teaching kitchen. GNTC is a unit of the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) and an equal opportunity institute.
Georgia Northwestern Technical College provides quality workforce education to the citizens of Northwest Georgia. Students have the opportunity to earn an associate degree, diploma, or a certificate in business, health, industrial, or public service career paths. This past year, 13,734 people benefited from GNTC’s credit and noncredit programs. With an annual credit enrollment of 7,876 students, GNTC is the largest college in Northwest Georgia. GNTC has an additional enrollment of 5,858 people through adult education, continuing education, business and industry training, and Georgia Quick Start.