Food News

New Association Supporting Hispanic Restaurant Owners and Staff

Staci Berry
Manny Barella, Selene Nestor and John Jaramillo of the Hispanic Restaurant Association.
John Jaramillo and Selene Nestor met at a networking event in February at the Source Hotel and quickly bonded over their search for an organization that supported the Hispanic community — especially within the restaurant industry. Jaramillo recalls being at a restaurant in Fort Collins and asking, “'Is there anything like a Hispanic restaurant association?' And they said no, so I turned around and called [Nestor] immediately.”

After several brainstorming meetings at the Source, Jaramillo and Nestor solidified their goals and created the Hispanic Restaurant Association. “Our mission statement is to advocate on behalf of the Hispanic restaurateur to open and operate the restaurants effectively and efficiently,” Jaramillo says. Together they spent the spring and summer establishing infrastructure and getting a website and social media in order; now the goal is to get the word out about the services offered by the HRA.

“People, purpose, plan, passion, and technology. All of those combined with the people, our chefs, the restaurateurs, our industry partners, academia — specifically Community College of Denver (CCD) and Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSUD) — and the use of technology to spread the word quickly is how we’re going to drive this and become first local, then regional and then national,” Jaramillo explains.

Even in its infancy, the organization has had numerous requests from Hispanic restaurateurs for assistance and guidance through the licensing process. The association provides information on where to start and how to navigate permits and agreements, as well as connecting owners with preferred vendors. Knowing that a language barrier can be one the biggest obstacles to restaurant ownership, the association operates as an advocate for Hispanic restaurateurs and staff.

Jaramillo and Nestor beam with pride when they recall how the association recently saved a local Hispanic restaurateur from losing his business. The owner, who started as a dishwasher in the industry, hired a person to assist with the process, but then things started to stall. When the association stepped in, it became apparent that the hired person was positioning himself to take over the business. The restaurateur, a family man with two young children, was very close to losing his life savings and the dream of opening his own place. With the guidance of the association, the restaurant was saved, and is now open.
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Chef Manny Barella at Bellota is head of the Hispanic Chef Association.
Another objective of the association is to elevate Hispanic chefs through exposure. On November 8, the association will host its first annual Hispanic Top Chef competition at MSUD. The judging panel includes James Beard-nominated chef Dana Rodriguez of Work & Class and Super Mega Bien, Orlando Benavidez of Bits and Pieces, and other influential Hispanic chefs from Colorado. As head of the Hispanic Chef Association, Manny Barella of Bellota will also be present to address the competing chefs. The event is invite-only; however, interviews with participants can be heard on the association’s podcast, Colorado Food Magazine, which is hosted by intern Brendan Jordan and other HRA members.

The HRA has already accomplished a lot in its short existence, but Jaramillo and Nestor have many more goals and future plans to implement. “We truly want to make a difference in the systemic issues we have in the community,” Nestor notes. HRA is planning two big projects to help further break down barriers. The first is a partnership with CCD and MSUD to offer restaurant and bar workers ESL classes. The second, planned for March 2022, is a Hispanic Food, Beverage and Technology vendor show.

By minimizing and removing hurdles for Hispanic restaurant workers and their families, HRA is broadening the path of progression for an essential community to the restaurant industry in Colorado and beyond. With plenty of work ahead, Jaramillo and Nestor are immensely appreciative of how receptive everyone has been in the process so far. “Now the next step is to get the word out about us,” Jaramillo concludes.