Nuestra Comunidad: Undocumented immigrant is successful restaurateur

Despite his undocumented status in this country, Mexican native Juan Gabriel Hernández has created a restaurant empire that currently employs 400 Latinos and Americans. What keeps him going, says Hernández, is an inner strength that he has relied on since his youth.

Hernández’s story is similar to that of many other immigrants seeking the ‘American Dream.’

“I’m from a town called Estancia de Ánimas, it’s 45 minutes from the Mexican capital. My mother had to leave us when we were very young in order to come look for work in the United States and provide food for us,” he said. “I met her when I was nine years old, when my grandmother, who took care of us, passed away. Later, when I was 11, my sister and I came [to the U.S.] with our mother.”.

They wound up in Chicago, where Hernández found his true passion: the restaurant world. “I started working as a bar assistant when I was 13 years old. During the week I would go to school and on the weekends I worked in order to help my mom out.”

In 1996, Hernández and his sister moved to Georgia. He began working in an Italian restaurant, where he learned to cook, and went on to work as a waiter in a Mexican restaurant.

More than a decade later, in 2008, Hernández teamed up with his sister to open a restaurant in Acworth. In 2010, a second location opened in Dallas, with strong sales.

Today, Hernández is a partner of both La Bamba Mexican Bar and Grill, with six locations in Georgia, as well as Cielo Blue Mexican Grill and Cantina, which currently has four locations.

“We’ve created more than 400 jobs for Hispanics and Americans, and they are the strongest motivation I have to wake up each day,” he said. “That’s the great thing about your dream coming true, seeing others’ dreams come true as well.”

The journey has been difficult.

“We came to Chicago undocumented, but my mother was able to get her papers in order through the 1985 amnesty, and thanks to that she filed a request so that we could establish our situation,” Hernández said. “I’m still in the process, but I haven’t really had any hindrances to being a good man, a business man, who gives back to society through my work and through helping other families to be supported. Yes, it was hard, but it’s not impossible. The important thing is to respect the rules of the country, get to know their customs and do the right thing.”

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