While most kids were playing sports, at the movies or causing trouble, Fordham native Ariel Espinal spent his summers and winter breaks working in the fields in the Dominican Republic.
Espinal, 31, is the general manager of operations at MamaSushi in Manhattan and Throggs Neck, 3478 E. Tremont Ave.
Raised by his parents, Sonya Rodriguez and José Espinal, he began going to the D.R. at age 4. He would pick yucca, pineapple, tobacco and loved spending time in the countryside. He went there every year until middle school.
“It gave me a different perspective on life,” he explained. “It taught me how to be humble and grateful.”
That experience of picking fresh fruit, veggies and seeing how hard people work helped shape him to the man he is today.
At 13 he began working as a towel boy/ bus boy at the Elmwood Country Club in White Plains. Espinal spent three years there and then moved onto a restaurant in Scarsdale, where he was a food runner.
He told the Bronx Times the money was nice, but ultimately loved interacting with the people and proving them with good food.
“It’s all about customer service and how you treat every person,” he explained.
Knowing his mom wanted him to go to college, Espinal enrolled in mechanic classes. He was good at fixing cars, however, after a few months, realized his heart was set on the food industry.
His love for food and restaurants comes from his parents. His mom was a great cook and his late father owned a bodega for several years.
He wonders how different life would be if they hadn’t sent him to the D.R. all those years. Espinal thanked them numerous times for doing that.
In the industry for 18 years, he has been with MamaSushi for the past four. While the past nine months during COVID-19 have been the most challenging of his career, he loves his job and working in Throggs Neck.
As he looks to the future, Espinal knows one day he will have his own restaurant.
“You have to be patient,” he stated. “Everything will have its right time and place. A lot of people appreciate the hospitality and that’s what keeps us going.”