Equal Latin Restaurant & Bar is an immigrant’s realized dream

Popular restaurant moves to its own building 


Her childhood was a bit of a paradox – one that she described as poor but beautiful. 

“I appreciate my upbringing because it makes me the person I am today,” said Maria Isabel Guzman, the owner of Equal Latin Restaurant & Bar in Olympia. “Growing up that way makes me appreciate what I have now.” 

Born in Jalisco, Mexico, the then 16-year-old Guzman emigrated to the United States in 2000 to financially help her family. She spoke very little English. After a short time of working as a dishwasher in a restaurant in California, she moved to Columbus, Ohio where she again worked as a dishwasher at a Bob Evans restaurant. 

 “I was a hard worker who could wash dishes,” she explained with a smile, “and I was also learning to speak English.”   

 Her work ethic paid off. Five months later, she was working on the salad bar; eight months after that, she was making gravies and grits and biscuits; and several months after that she was working as a line cook. After three years she left Bob Evans to work at a City Barbeque as a cook, waitress and hostess. 

Maria Isabel Guzman, owner of Equal Latin Restaurant & Bar, has realized her dream of owning a restaurant that welcomes everyone.
Maria Isabel Guzman, owner of Equal Latin Restaurant & Bar, has realized her dream of owning a restaurant that welcomes everyone.

 “I kept learning about cooking; I kept learning English; and I kept improving,” she added. 

 Wanting to reconnect with family members in Olympia, Guzman moved here in 2004 and found work at the now-defunct Pepper Mexican Restaurant as a waitress and eventually as the manager. 

 “Along the way … I met people that noticed and appreciated my work ethic,” explained Guzman. “Together with my family, friends and this community, Equal Latin was born in 2019.”  It was located at 520 4th Avenue East in downtown Olympia. 

Equal Latin, which serves dishes from Mexico and throughout Latin America, is a place that celebrates the diversity of Olympia and humans everywhere. The menu represents a delicious mix of food from our many cultures,” Guzman told a reporter from The JOLT. 

 Months later, COVID-19 hit.  

Guzman related that staying open became tough, and that she and her staff faced some hard times. But she added that her customers remained loyal. 

 “Olympia is beautiful,” she exclaimed. “When closed during COVID, people would come in and leave money,” Guzman said. After the business reopened, Let’s say they spent 15 dollars for a meal and then would leave a $1,000 tip, she added. 

 Guzman added that other diners would buy gift certificates to use at a future date and that there was a group of people who came in every Saturday and sat outside to have their meals. 

 “No matter the weather, they came here to support this place and me,” she said. 

 When asked why she thinks why her customers have continued to support her, Guzman paused for a moment and then said, “I think it is because of who I am – that I am transparent and don’t hide anything.” 

 She also said that her parents have been the most influential on her success as a businesswoman. 

 This success has led Guzman to relocate her business to 2752 Pacific Avenue SE.  

  “We have all of the same great food and staff with which to serve our customers,” concluded Guzman.   

 “After many years of dedicated hard work and a strong support system, I have realized my dream – a restaurant that welcomes all.”  


4 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • Snevets

    So excited for your new restaurant Maria! Your opening night was a great success! Look forward to many meals in your new casa!

    Ande & Eddie Kobek

    Friday, January 5 Report this

  • JstPlnOnry

    LOVE Equal Latin! I’m so happy she got out of downtown. I hope she’s more successful in her new location but keeps her head on a swivel in that location. Right across the street from her is THE BEST coffee in Olympia - Madres Coffee stand - and she’s been hit twice in the first couple months since she opened her second coffee stand. Super proud of both these ladies & business owners!♥️

    Saturday, January 6 Report this

  • JW

    Equal Latin is an outstanding restaurant. Congratulations on getting out of the downtown area to a place where people will feel safe and not be exposed to rampant drug use and crime.

    Saturday, January 6 Report this

  • cappers

    Went there tonight (3/8/24) Fantastic food.

    Isabelle was so warm, friendly and charming. Her brother was very sweet and friendly as well. Heck.. everyone that works there seemed very happy.

    Got the ground beef chimichangas . Wow! Huge portion. Could only eat 1/2 . The rest is for lunch tomorrow.

    My friend couldn't make it to join me, but felt perfectly comfy sitting at a small table by myself.

    Will go back to treat myself. Was feeling down today and this place really made me feel better.

    Saturday, March 9 Report this