Yolfer’s parents are from Colombia; however, he was born in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, where his parents owned a shoe factory. He lived there until he was six years old when his parents decided to move themselves and their three children to Columbia.
Yolfer moved back to Caracas at 17 years of age, living with his aunt and working at McDonald’s. In this arrangement, he had disposable income, lots of friends, and parties. Life was good.
“Venezuela is wonderful – the beaches and mountains: it has everything in one country. I love it.”
Yolfer decided to attend culinary school with dreams of having his own bakery or restaurant one day.
Yolfer grew up going to church, and he tries to stay connected to God.
“Because of things that happen in my life, that’s why I chose to find God. I’m not crazy about religions; I just like to believe in God so I read the bible every single day. I like to always be in contact with God. He makes me feel comfortable and relaxed. He is always with me.” (audio below)
After graduating from culinary school, Yolfer started working in a famous French-Jewish bakery in Caracas. His sister was living in New York, and he wanted to visit her. In 2010 he applied for a tourist visa – he remembers being nervous about the interview.
“I was the kind of person who nobody is going to give a visa to because I was young, and they thought this guy is going to try to stay over there.”
Yolfer was surprised and happy that they approved his application.
In 2010, Yolfer at 25 years of age, spent one week in New York visiting his sister. While there, he started having pains in his chest, shakes at night, and he stopped eating and drinking. He was losing weight and figured it must be the change of weather.
When he woke up in the hospital, Yolfer had no idea how he got there. The doctor told him he had diabetes. After he returned to Venezuela, his health kept getting worse. He figured he would get better treatment in the US, and so with time still on his six-month visa, Yolfer returned to the States. He was relieved that the border official never asked him for details about why he had left the US and then returned so quickly.
“That’s why I believe a lot in God.” (audio below)
Yolfer’s first job in New Jersey was at a cake factory. The following year, in 2012, he got a job at CHOC·O·PAIN Bakery & Café and has been working there ever since. He has learned how to do all of the beautiful and complicated pastries on the job.
Five days a week he goes to the bakery at seven in the morning. Yolfer enjoys baking alongside his co-workers. He always encourages them to think about their future and realize how they shouldn’t always have to work for somebody else.
His boss Clemence [see the above photo] is from Paris and considers herself a “big gourmand.” She opened this business after noticing that there was a lack of good bread in New Jersey. The quality of what they make at CHOC·O·PAIN is “far from wonder bread.”
Yolfer was one of her first employees.
“Yolfer is a great employee who is very focused on quality. He has a lot of integrity when it comes to work. He doesn’t waste time because he has a busy life between his business and working with us and everything. It’s good because everybody follows him with that speed yet with a high focus on quality.” (audio below)
Since Yolfer arrived in the US, he has dreamed of starting his own business.
Aside from working at the French bakery, three days a week, he rents space at Hot Bread Kitchen incubator (a shared licensed kitchen space for food production). From this space, Yolfer runs his own company Pabade Bakery, which stands for PAstry, BAkery, and DEssert. This incubator also provided Yolfer with business classes and a professional kitchen where he makes his products. He specializes in pound cakes, scones, muffins, cookies, and brownies, which he sells to five different coffee shops in the city. His dream is to get his products into a big grocery chain.
Yolfer likes to experiment and be creative with traditional recipes. For example, he takes conventional muffin recipes and makes them vegan. (audio below)
While juggling these two jobs, Yolfer is also studying business administration in college.
“My life is a little crazy, but I make it work. I don’t have time for things that are not important to me. People invite me out to go for a drink or to the nightclub, and I don’t go. That’s not me. At 10 pm I’m sleeping. I cannot waste my time. Every day I wake up at 5 am. No days off because I’m building the business, and I cannot rest.”
Yolfer says he fell in love with the United States from the beginning. He loves how calm and quiet New Jersey is. He lives with roommates [see the photo above] from El Salvador who he met in an English class and has an eclectic group of friends from Mexico, El Salvador, and Ecuador. Usually, they come over to his house to hang out since Yolfer doesn’t have time to go out.
“I don’t go out because I am doing homework or working on recipes. I miss having more time to enjoy life – that’s what I miss. Here we don’t have enough time. You just have to work to pay the rent and everything is about money. In my country, I used to have time for family and friends, but not here.” (audio below)
Yolfer has now had diabetes for a decade, and it’s the main reason he doesn’t want to return to Venezuela. He is still in treatment.
“It’s a little crazy because I make sweet things, and I have diabetes!”
Yolfer’s immediate goal for the future is to get a car. He says it is hard to live without one in New Jersey, especially since he is running a business. Every time he gets an order for his baked goods, he has to either borrow a car [see photo below] or make the delivery by public transportation.
Yolfer’s next goal is to open a bakery and café with his siblings.
“I’m not going to be working for somebody else my whole life.”
*Update: Since the interview, Yolfer and his siblings have opened their own Pabade Bakery and Café in East Harlem.
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© Photos and text by Colin Boyd Shafer | Edited by Janice May & Kate Kamo McHugh. Quotes are edited for clarity and brevity.