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'I will stay with you': Blind refugee creates culinary career with wife as his eyes

Samantha and Yeshua Prestan move as one in the kitchen.

For every slight gesture Yeshua takes to prepare lunch, Samantha is right beside him, anticipating his next move.

He smoothly chops carrots with all the grace earned from decades making supper since childhood.

He barely has to speak before she sweeps a few stalks of green onions on the cutting board to chop next for an egg salad.

As he seasons the mixture, she hustles dishes back and forth to the sink. She's already back at his side as he turns on the griddle to prepare a Cuban sandwich.

The 55-year old isn't just her husband's better half. Samantha serves as his eyes, and their synchronized work in the kitchen is their dance.

Yeshua is blind. The 56-year-old can still see vague shapes, but a genetic disorder called retinitis pigmentosa has deteriorated his eyesight over time.

But he loves cooking, having grown up with family in the restaurant industry, and is passionate about crafting his own recipes. After he started losing his eyesight in 2009, which made it difficult to find employment, Samantha became his "sous chef," so he could continue doing what he loves.

"He has ideas for how it should look, but can't see it," Samantha said. "All the time, I see and I help."

The two work at Yakkity Yak Coffee Shack. Yeshua is the chef, preparing homemade recipes and treats such as Samantha's family recipe for tabbouleh. Samantha is a shift supervisor, who guides Yeshua as he works.

Yakkity Yak, a coffee shop in the All American Gymnastics Academy building in southeastern Sioux Falls that, is fully run by people with special needs. The shop not only serves coffee and food to its customers, but is meant to expose people to what inclusion is and to better employ people of all abilities.

"They're so in sync with each other because they've worked together for so many years," said Kathy Luke, executive director of Yaks Give Back. "A lot of the time, people with different abilities are overlooked. Here, we are giving them an opportunity to do different things and learn different things — find success in employment."

'A new life'

The Prestans are refugees from Colombia, having moved to Sioux Falls about 12 years ago with their four children.

"It was a new life, new language, new people. But we are happy," Samantha said.

The two dated each other in high school, but they separated because their families didn't approve of the relationship. It wasn't until 13 years later they met again.

By then, they both had children of their own and had divorced from their spouses. Samantha was an up-and-coming lawyer and Yeshua was an architect looking for legal advise about his company. When he called an office, it just so happened to be his high school sweetheart who could help him out.

The spark was still there for both of them. He asked her to get dinner, and they rekindled their romance.

"She never forgot me," Yeshua joked.

After a few years together again, they had to flee Colombia because there were assassins trying to kill Samantha. She was an attorney and government worker at a high security prison in Barranquilla, Colombia. They originally fled to Costa Rica in 2005, but they fled again to the United States after people tried to kidnap their youngest daughter.

Yeshua's eyesight quickly worsened after moving to South Dakota. The bright reflection on the snow and harsher sunlight deteriorated his eyesight. Without his eyes, he lost many things he loved: friendships, his work with construction and design, painting and photography.

But he didn't lose Samantha.

Yeshua and Samantha Prestan prepare a Cuban sandwich on Wednesday, Feb. 10, at Yakkity Yak Coffee Shack in Sioux Falls. Yeshua, who is blind, relies on his wife, Samantha, to be his eyes while he works as a chef.

'Enjoy the time you have together'

He attended a school to learn adaptation skills, which is where he learned how to safely cook without his vision. He cooked at a day care in Sioux Falls for four years, and Samantha served as a volunteer to help him prepare food, before the two started Cafeto Colombian Coffee, a Colombian coffee distribution business in 2012.

The two sell their coffee through Yakkity Yak, other businesses in town and the Eighth and Railroad Center Farmers Market. They also dream of opening up the first Colombian restaurant in Sioux Falls soon.

During their 23 years together, they've learned to work together and complement each other.

He prefers to cook the food. She prefers to eat it and wash dishes afterward.

He's the creative with visions of how his creations should be presented. She's the helping hand who can make his ideas come to life.

"The food is good for our relationship, because even when it's a happy or a sad time, we have the food together," Yeshua said. "I tell her, 'Don't worry,' and 'Remember, I promised I will stay with you through all of it.'"

"The most important thing in love is that you have one life; no more," he added. "Right now, enjoy the life, enjoy the food, enjoy the time you have together."

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