from The Clarksville Times
134th Year No. 8 Thursday, February 23, 2006
by Jennifer LaPrade
When Alekander Lleshi was a boy growing up in the Eastern European country of Albania, he always dreamed of going to the United States.
His parents, who were from Italy, owned a small Italian restaurant in Albania.
My family’s restaurant did very well in Albania, Lleshi said. People loved it.
Lleshi worked at his family’s restaurant while he went to college in Albania to become a veterinarian.
“I always loved working with animals”, Lleshi said. It was my favorite thing.
When he was almost finished with college, Lleshi found out his dreams were about to come true. He was chosen in a random lottery to get a green card to come to the United States.
“I always wanted to come to the United States because it was a big opportunity to really do whatever you wanted to do”, Lleshi said. You work hard and it will come back to you in the United States.
So once Lleshi finished college, he left his family of three brothers and three sisters, his parents, and his fiancée, Aurora, and came to the United States.
“It completely changed my life”, Lleshi said. It was my dream come true to come to the United States. I couldn’t believe it.
Lleshi came to the United States in 1998 and the first place he got off in was Brooklyn, New York. Since he did not know any English at all, he found it very hard at first.
“At the beginning, I was all alone. I had to find a place to live”, Lleshi said. “It was very, very, very hard for me. When I would meet people, I couldn’t really talk to them or be friendly because I didn’t know English. It was very hard.”
He ended up living in a basement in Staten Island, but still struggled very much because he couldn’t communicate with anyone.
Lots of people told me to go on welfare, Lleshi said, but I refused. This welfare is for people who are sick. People who cannot work. I didn’t come here for welfare. I came here to change my life.
Lleshi soon began to develop a plan for how to make it in the United States.
My first thing was to learn English, he said. This was very important my most important thing. Nobody knew who I was. I couldn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t have a chance in the United States if I didn’t learn English.
So Lleshi soon enrolled in a school to learn English where he went from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. every weekday. He then left school and went to work at an Italian restaurant in Staten Island where he worked until 11 p.m. He did this for two years all alone.
Everybody from my country thinks the United States is just easy all you have to do is come here and you will have all you want, Lleshi said. But it is not like that. You have to work very, very hard to change your life. I called my friends and told them, No, it doesn’t work that way.
Lleshi kept this schedule of going to school to learn English and working at the Italian restaurant everyday for two years.
I worked full-time and went to school full-time to pay my bills in Staten Island, he said. I just kept to myself. I had to.
Lleshi did keep in contact with his fiancée and family back in Albania.
I spent five dollars on the phone every day to talk to Aurora and my family overseas, he said.
After two years, he was finally able to speak, read, and write enough English to communicate pretty well with others.
Everything changed after I learned English, Lleshi said. I met lots of people. Everyone was very nice and respectful to me. Everyone was very friendly. Everything changed. It was really amazing.
Lleshi kept his job at the Italian restaurant since he enjoyed it so much.
I was a very fast worker, he said. I really tried to help everybody. My boss was very nice to me. When you work very good here in the United States, they will be nice to you.
Since he now had his days free, he decided to take a second job in New York City using his college degree from Albania as a veterinarian.
Once I learned English, I got a job working as a veterinarian, he said. I worked part-time in the clinic in Brooklyn until 4 p.m., then worked at the restaurant.
When he worked at the clinic, he said he took care of sick dogs and cats. He worked in surgery, gave x-rays, did blood work, and gave shots and vaccinations.
Lleshi found a lot of differences in working as a veterinarian in the United States compared to working as one in Albania.
It was totally different, he said. They actually treat animals like human beings in the United States. It was great. In Albania, sometimes they treat human beings like animals.
Lleshi found many things he loved about the United States.
Everybody trusts in God here, he said. They know God can be close. These are good words. When you believe or trust, God can be close. And that is what happened to me.
He also said he really appreciates what the United States has done to help Albanians.
“The United States is always helping other countries, he said. That is very great.
So for four years, Lleshi worked hard all alone and saved 20 percent of everything he made. He was also working all that time to get permission for his fiancée, Aurora, to come join him in the United States.
After four years, he was finally able to bring Aurora over from Albania.
When she arrived, Lleshi wanted to find a place to start a family with her.
New York is very nice for me, Lleshi said. Its amazing. It will always be my favorite place to go and visit. But I wanted some other place to raise a family.
Lleshi had become friends with a man who was a federal officer from Washington D.C. and came into the restaurant very often in Staten Island.
He was my friend, Lleshi said. He is someone I will always love and respect very much. He is a very special guy.
The friend suggested to Lleshi that he try out Dallas.
He said to me if you want to work and be like a country man (a cowboy), Lleshi said, everybody is talking about Dallas.
So he left New York City in 2002 and brought his new wife Aurora to Dallas to find out if that is the place he wanted to settle and start his family.
When I first came to Dallas, he said, I applied and worked at Albertsons at Frankfort and the Tollway.
He said when he started working at Albertsons, a grocery store chain in the Dallas area, he had a manager named Nancy, who really helped him because he was such a hard worker.
He also started working at another Italian restaurant in the Dallas area cooking food.
I worked seven days straight in the restaurant, he said. Sometimes I would go three days with no sleep. I would work in the mornings and afternoons at Albertsons and then late into the night at the Italian restaurant. Nobody could believe it. But I had to work that much so I could have a good life.
Lleshi also began working as a veterinarian again in Dallas after he left Albertsons.
They had very specialized and high-tech equipment, he said. It was amazing. I learned so much there. I worked there for three years and kept working at the Italian Restaurant.
Lleshi enjoyed his time in Dallas, but he still thought it was too big.
Dallas is a good city, but traffic is very bad, he said. It was still too much. Too big. When I came to Dallas, I only had a bicycle to get around in. Thats not good in Dallas.
So he began looking for smaller towns in Texas to start his family. By this time, his wife was pregnant with their first child.
So I found Clarksville, he said with a big smile.
Dallas was still just too many people, he said. There was no chance for people to say hi to you. Here they say hi to you.
At first, he was thinking of opening up his own veterinary clinic, which had always been a dream of his. But he found out buying all the equipment needed for a clinic would just be too expensive for him right now.
So he went with the other business he knew best, an Italian restaurant.
My mother-in-law said if you open up a restaurant, I can help you, he said. I liked Clarksville very much because its a small town, he said. Here if you are very good and very respectful, they will be good and respectful back to you.
So Lleshi came to Clarksville about six months ago looking for places to open his new Italian restaurant. He decided on a location right on the square in downtown Clarksville.
The building was not in good shape, he said. Lots of people told me you couldn’t make it.
But determined, Lleshi did much of the construction himself. He said it took a lot of painting and remodeling. After a month of working on the building, and bringing in stoves and a pizza oven from Dallas, he was ready to open.
He used all his experience in Italian restaurants, from the family-owned Italian restaurant in Albania, the Italian restaurant in Staten Island, and the one in Dallas, and brought it all together to create the Italian Bistro. He changed up the menus a bit and brought a little bit from each place. He also changed the prices significantly.
I knew I had to lower the prices first, he said. They were too high for a small town.
Lleshi opened the Italian Bistro on the square in Clarksville on September 30, 2005.
This was around the same time he and Aurora had their first child, Brooklyn, who he named after the first place he went after he landed in the United States.
The restaurant has been very good, Lleshi said. I can pay my bills. For right now, I am very happy. I try to work hard to make everybody happy everyday. I try to make very high quality food.
There are still several things Lleshi would like to do to make the Italian Bistro even better.
Id like to put in a big television so people can come in and enjoy sports, he said. Id like to bring live music to Clarksville, too.
As for being a veterinarian, Lleshi says you never know what will happen, but right now hes very happy living out another dream he has always had of owning his own Italian restaurant.
Id like to stay in Clarksville for the rest of my life and raise my kids here, he said. We love it here. Its very friendly here. We love the small town. I appreciate everyone here so much. They care. They ask me if I need anything. I’m not here to make money, its not about the business. I’m here to be happy and raise my family in a nice place. We love it here.
God Bless Clarksville and I thank everybody for all the help. Lleshi said. I’m very happy and very, very proud to be in Clarksville and in the United States.