When Francisco Juarez was 19 years old and living with his parents in Veracruz, Mexico, a friend invited him to come and stay with him in Sarasota. At the time, Juarez didn’t speak any English. “I was totally lost,” says Juarez, now 32, “but at the same time I was excited.”
He had never worked in a kitchen before, but, through a friend, he landed a job washing dishes at a deli, and was inspired watching the line cooks and chefs. “Even at the bottom,” he says, “I was passionate about wanting to move up and be a chef.”
Juarez hopped from restaurant to restaurant, inching up the kitchen hierarchy, until 2010, when he landed a job as a line cook at Libby’s Café + Bar, now Libby’s Neighborhood Brasserie, where he is currently the sous chef. He learned culinary techniques in the kitchen and took English for Speakers of Other Languages classes at what was then Sarasota County Technical Institute. “The language was the biggest obstacle,” he says.
Sarasota’s bustling restaurant world provides plenty of job opportunities, and tools like social media make it easy to hear about openings. When he moved to Sarasota in 2007, it was hard to find a job. Nowadays, not so much. “It’s a lot easier to make your dreams happen,” he says, adding that he sends money back to his parents in Mexico.
At times, Juarez has considered moving back home, or to New York, where he also has family, but he’s adjusted.
Sarasota is 1,000 miles from Veracruz, but they’re not so different. “The nature, the weather, the beaches—it has a strong resemblance,” he says. “Sarasota will always feel like a home away from home."