For many immigrants, achieving the “American dream” inspires them to do the impossible in a country where they don’t even exist on paper. Agustin Bahena grew up in a family of farmworkers in Guerrero, Mexico. As was customary in the rural parts of the old country, his role was to pick up where his father, and grandfather before him, left off, and continue to work the land. He remembers loving the feeling of being able to enjoy what he had grown from seed to crop, as his grandmother’s kitchen filled with aromas of freshly cooked chiles, chocolate, and other spices over wooden charcoal.
He dared to dream of a different life, one where he would transition from farmer to artist. Agustin continued to farm while he put himself through culinary school. Once he graduated, he had to work even harder on the farm. Since opportunities for chefs were hard to come by where he lived, and if he wanted to fulfill his dream of owning his own restaurant, he would have to risk it all and venture to the United States. After selling a year’s worth of crops, he set off on a journey to “the other side.”
While working double shifts and doing odd jobs, often sacrificing quality time with his family, he kept his eye on the prize. After he had enough savings, he founded La Fogata Village in Pilsen, which often took home the trophy for the best mole at ESDC’s Mole de Mayo festival which draws in over 130,000 festival-goers every year. Rents began to increase in the neighborhood, and he moved his restaurant to Wood and Blue Island. As he began to rebuild his customer base and experience higher revenues, a pandemic would strike, leaving him to face yet another setback. Due to the forced shutdown and social distancing restrictions, he lost customers and staff. Like many other small business owners in the area, he was forced to use his savings to cover the losses and keep his business afloat. Soon, his medical condition would worsen, and he would fall into a depression. But being a man of conviction, he realized that he had come too far to give up now. He decided to reach out to ESDC, his neighborhood economic- development organization, and inquire about any programs or services that he might be able to benefit from. An advisor was able to guide him through the grant application process, and Agustin submitted a winning grant proposal, landing a business grant from LISC. He will continue to receive marketing assistance as well as follow-up calls from our staff.
To those who have the same dream he says “Be willing to put in the hard work, because you will have to work hard, wake up the next day, and do it all over again.” To those who are now struggling he says “Don’t give up, but also don’t be afraid to see what is out there. ESDC made me feel like I was not alone.” To those who haven’t tried his food, he says “prepare yourself for the aromas of my kitchen, for they will transport you to a place of memories.”