NEW CANAAN — “I never thought in a million years that I would be a chef,” Nube Siguenza said as she looked around the recently-renovated Cava Wine Bar & Restaurant, the Italian eatery her brothers Kleber and Vicente founded in the early 2000s and where she is co-owner and chef.

The 45-year-old does, however, recognize that cooking has been an ever-present factor in her life. Growing up in Cuenca, Ecuador, Siguenza watched her grandmother and mother cook at home. Latin American culture and tradition, Siguenza said, ensures women know how to cook, though it was something she never envisioned taking up as a career.

“I cook with love, especially when we host family and dinners at my house,” Siguenza said. “The biggest satisfaction for me is when clients leave with a smile on their face.”

The American dream first began for Siguenza when she came to Norwalk at age 21 to visit her brothers for winter vacation. Siguenza was at business school at the Catholic University of Cuenca, something that has benefited her greatly as co-owner of Cava, as numbers, budgets and expenses are a day-to-day thing.

This “vacation” experience would ultimately convince her to stay and build a life for herself more than 3,000 miles from home.

“Almost the day after I arrived to Connecticut, I began working the cashier at a McDonald’s on Westport Avenue in Norwalk,” Siguenza said. “My English wasn’t the best, but I learned more and more as time went on.”

Many things encouraged Siguenza to stay in America but, more than anything, it was the fact that she would be starting her own adventure with her brothers. The trio of co-owners ultimately selected 2 Forest St. as the site for their restaurant.

“We all had cumulative experiences from working in the restaurant industry,” Siguenza said. “And so we wanted to have our own little thing, a family-oriented restaurant in a small town like New Canaan.”

While Siguenza’s life changed a lot with her resettlement to the United States, she said she has lived with no regrets. Still, she does miss her hometown in Ecuador.

“Of course I miss it,” she said. “I miss my childhood growing up there and my family but now I have a family here with my two daughters and my mother lives with me as well.”

Her last trip to Ecuador was last August, though the Weston resident admits that it’s difficult to go back with a busy schedule — especially as unexpected emergencies can come out of nowhere. In September 2016, the restaurant suffered vast damages when the sprinkler system went off as a result of a fire that began in the attic of 96 Main St., the building directly next to Cava.

“We were working that day — it was Labor Day,” Siguenza recalled. “We perceived what was the smell of burning wires and when I opened the emergency door and saw smoke from the attic, I called the landlord and 911. It wasn’t the fire that affected us but, rather, the water from the sprinkler system. We had to close for about a year.”

During the year the restaurant underwent renovations, Siguenza worked jobs in Westport and Fairfield in what was a stressful time for the family.

“There was a lot of construction but we have a positive attitude and people in New Canaan have been very good with their feedback,” Siguenza said. “We’re looking forward to putting chairs and tables outside in April once the weather is warmer.”

The restaurant re-opened in September. Despite the setback, Cava is back to life and continues to be a staple of New Canaan, something that Siguenza attributes to her family’s work ethic and gratefulness for the opportunities this country has given them.

“Most of the people call

me Nube when they see me around town and it makes

me feel like I’m a part of their family, a real part of the community,” Siguenza said.

humberto.juarez@hearst

mediact.com