Even in good times: the west-side struggles

Story and photos by SPENCER BUCHANAN 

In February 2020, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., stirred up controversy when she said in part, “It’s a physical impossibility to lift yourself up by a bootstrap, by your shoelaces.”

Ocasio-Cortez and others explained further that the original meaning of the idiom “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” was meant as a joke and that the narrative has driven out good policy in helping struggling people. The narrative the idiom formed is one that disregards the barriers that the working-class and marginalized have to deal with, despite the recent economic gains and the shrinking unemployment rate. 

It can be hard to break into the job market. It can be particularly difficult for immigrants and refugees to find stable, well-paying employment. Many struggle to apply for jobs and even more face structural challenges in acquiring the skills and training necessary to qualify for positions. These problems can be found nationwide but the impact can be seen on the west side of Salt Lake City.

The west side has long been a working-class neighborhood and in recent years has become increasingly diverse. With large immigrant and refugee populations, residents of the west side often have to make huge adjustments to enter the American job market.

Organizations like the University Neighborhood Partners (UNP) Hartland Partnership Center, the Rose Park Neighborhood Center, and the Utah Department of Workforce Services work to help west-side residents deal with barriers that are commonly overlooked.

“Individuals come in seeking support in finding jobs. So that can vary in need. Sometimes we’ll make resumes. We have a lot of templates and we’ll actually help make the resumes with individuals. And often we’ll just help apply for jobs,” said Amelia Cope, an intern at Hartland and social work student at the University of Utah.

Cope explained that those who come to Hartland need help with several issues. Many clients don’t have an email account or computer access, several don’t have transportation, and many speak English as a second language. 

The Rose Park Neighborhood Center at 754 N. 800 West.

Lenn Rodriguez, a site coordinator at Hartland, stated that beyond the technology gap and language difficulties, many recent immigrants and refugees have experienced or are experiencing trauma that can be debilitating. According to Rodriguez, this is why the Hartland Partnership Center also provides counseling and therapy for many new immigrants and refugees.

“A lot of the people that are coming here have trauma from wherever they came and haven’t processed that. That affects your ability to seek out employment and other services,” Rodriguez said. 

But a major problem that Rodriguez sees is the lack of “good jobs” and training for immigrants and refugees.

 “We work with a lot of professionals, also with people that hold degrees in other countries like engineers, doctors, teachers, from Iraq, from Syria, from El Salvador. They come here and they can’t work in that field that they studied. So they become cleaners, they work at the airport, and hotels,” Rodriguez said.

The University Neighborhood Partners Hartland Partnership Center, located at 1578 W. 1700 South.

Rodriguez stated that many professionals have to start again in education and training if they want to work in their original field. Unfortunately, many job seekers in the west side are suffering from a wider issue in the market.

“The problem is: it’s very difficult to do training,” said Cihan Bilginsoy, a professor in economics at the University of Utah who specializes in labor issues.

According to Bilginsoy, the nature of training and educating would-be job seekers is a costly and lengthy process. This process keeps many employers from implementing the necessary training or education that can lead to more stable, fulfilling, and well-paying jobs.

This cost and investment draws companies away from creating large training programs. He said many employers will instead invest in a few seasoned professionals and have other positions filled with very specifically trained but generally low-skilled employees. These “task-oriented” workers are put in vulnerable positions without marketable skills.

“These semi-skilled workers can be shed very easily, they receive low wages, they’re marginal and dispensable,” Bilgonsoy said.

The Associated General Contractors of Utah is one of the few organizations in the state that provides professional training.

In his research, Bilgonsoy has found that most western nations have a skills gap issue. Nations like Germany or Australia have created social and government structures that organize stakeholders like the government, the unions, and employers to cooperate and fund training in various fields. There have been pushes by the federal and some state governments to incentivize training programs mostly in the form of tax credits and work programs, but what’s being offered is often insufficient for companies to wholly invest into programs.

“We need to provide incentives for employers to provide training, we need to solve the problem of market failure in training. International evidence shows that states, or federal governments need to take a leading role in bringing together employers and trade unions, so these stakeholders share the risk,” Bilgonsoy said.

The challenges facing west-side residents go beyond Salt Lake City. The struggles that new immigrants, refugees, and the working-class have in finding gainful employment can be linked to a lack of skills necessary for an ever-advancing economy. Organizations like the Hartland Partnership Center do well to help west-side residents meet the basic needs for job seeking, but a large market and social change is necessary to meet the needs of the residents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do new high-rises address affordability on the west side of Salt Lake City?

New apartments on N. West Temple.

Story and photos by SPENCER BUCHANAN

The economy is growing and unemployment is at its lowest level in a generation. But many working-class people are feeling the squeeze. Salt Lake City has been greatly benefiting from the high economic growth of the last five years. But according to KUTV, some lawmakers say many residents are feeling pushed out by rising home costs. With rising real estate prices, research from the University of Utah shows that some people fear Salt Lake City will start to experience housing crunches like San Francisco or Los Angeles. To meet with rising home shortages and prices the government of Salt Lake City is pushing new high-density housing developments. These boxy, four- to six-story buildings can be seen going up all over the city. A number of these developments have already come to the west side of Salt Lake City and many more are planned.

The Deseret News touted high-density developments as a way of increasing affordable housing especially, in high-growth areas.

Ivis Garcia-Zambrana is a professor in City and Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah and vice-chair of the Planning Commission in Salt Lake City. She says that the government of Salt Lake City is actively encouraging new high-density developments through a points-based building permit system, which fast-tracks apartments with affordable units by circumventing administrative reviews by the city planning commission and city council.

“Ideally, as a developer, you avoid all kinds of public meetings. What you do is have an application that follows all the rules … you put in an application that seems so good that you get extra points,” Garcia-Zambrana said.

More points are given to projects that are high-density and have affordable units. She said this system cuts months off a developer’s project time and shows the active encouragement of the city to build high rises. But does high-density housing address affordability issues?

“It’s either too expensive or it’s too small. So it’s pushing out families. So, gentrification is definitely happening on the west side of Salt Lake right now,” said Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, director of the University Neighborhood Partners (UNP) and resident of the west side of Salt Lake City.

“The Salt Lake School District is losing about 1,000 students a year to families having to move out of Salt Lake City because they can’t afford to live in Salt Lake City anymore,” Mayer-Glenn said.

She said affordable housing is a major concern for the residents of the west side. Mayer-Glenn ceded that many of the high-density developments are affordable, but they lack community involvement in the building process.

Garcia-Zambrana said high-density housing doesn’t address the “cost-burden” that many homeowners on the west side experience.

“Cost-burden” is when a resident pays more than 30% of their net income into housing. Garcia-Zambrana is actively studying the west side. In her research, she found residents in the Fair Park and Jordan Meadows neighborhoods, where many of the new high-rise apartments have been built, are not cost-burdened. But residents in Glendale and Rose Park, where the majority are homeowners, the neighborhoods are experiencing housing cost difficulties.

According to Zillow, rents in Salt Lake City average around $1,500 up from the average $1,200 rent in 2015. Salt Lake City has average rental rates compared to the rest of the nation. Areas mentioned by Garcia-Zambrana, Fair Park and Jordan Meadows, have even lower rents. But rent prices and values in Salt Lake City have significantly increased in the last five years. The average Salt Lake City home value today is at over $400,000. While areas on the west side have lower home prices, floating in the high $200,000s, these homes can still be a cost-burden. This is why many renters and owners are starting to move out of the west side and the city altogether.

“For the prices in Salt Lake, they can own a home somewhere else nearby. That’s where you can see some of the idea of displacement,” said Garcia-Zambrana. “Planners are very concerned about cost displacement, but it’s not easy to quantify as you have to know why each person is moving and there are a lot of factors. People may be ‘displaced’ but may not feel disenfranchised (pushed out of their neighborhood), just that they simply moved.”

The Overniter Motel, site of the future SLCRDA Spark! project.

An example of Salt Lake City planners addressing cost and displacement concerns is the Spark! project located at 1500 W. North Temple. This upcoming housing development being built by the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency (SLCRDA) is planned to have 200 apartments with 50 designated as affordable or below-market-rate.

“We wanted to mesh housing, commercial, and open space. So there’s a balanced approach to it. So there’s a coffee shop but also a daycare. So it’s serving the community. And we try to focus on local businesses,” said Amanda Greenland, communications and outreach manager for the SLCRDA.

Projects like Spark! and Salt Lake City’s fast-tracking of high-density projects with affordable units show the city’s efforts to address rising housing cost. High-density housing, though, doesn’t address the cost-burden issues felt by homeowners on the west side. The cost of owning a home there is increasing, which is leading to much of the ire felt by longtime residents. High-rises in Salt Lake City are being built with affordable prices in mind but not with the ownership that many families look for. As the city grows and property values increase, homeownership on the west side may become a thing of the past.

Latinx businesses in the Salt Lake City area

Story and gallery by IASIA BEH

Utah’s demographics are rapidly changing.

Not only has Utah’s population grown the fastest in the country in the past 19 years, but the number of people of color who live in Utah has also ballooned in recent years. The Latinx community, in particular, has grown nearly 15 percent between 2010 and 2016, according to the U.S. Census. This coincides with Utah’s growing economy, adding 115 percent more Latinx businesses from 1997-2015.

Alex Guzman, the president and CEO of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, located at 1635 S. Redwood Road, has a couple ideas as to what the reasoning behind the population growth could be. One, that Latinx families are more likely to have more children than white families. And second, internal immigration.

“Internal immigration is one of the reasons,” Guzman said. “When the lives turn tough for the immigrant community in Arizona, Nevada and California, they move up.” He said people are moving from nearby cities such as Phoenix and Las Vegas to West Valley City, where they can find goods and services in Spanish. 

Rancho Markets is an example of one of these services. Founded in 2006, the stores are run by Latinx individuals and the signs are displayed in Spanish.

Está cerca de donde vivo,” said a mom, Rosa, at the 140 N. 900 West location. Through a translator, she said that the store is close to where she lives and it’s convenient.

Looking at a map of Salt Lake City grocery stores, most are on the east side, leaving the mostly brown west side to go to fewer stores such as Rancho Markets. This is a positive if you are catering to only Latinx individuals as there would almost be a monopoly, but breaking into the white market has proven to be difficult.

There are many reasons why that is. One is the fact that many Latinx people haven’t been taught how to run a business in the first place. The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, however, is looking to fix this discrepancy.

“[Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce] created a program we call the Business Academy,” Guzman said. “In partnership with colleges and universities, every single 10 weeks we start a new program where we train the Hispanic business community on how to do business in the U.S.”

Another benefit of the program is that it helps its attendees learn English. The language barrier can be a huge hurdle when expanding markets to serve communities that don’t speak Spanish.

“Currently we are teaching these classes in Spanish,” Guzman said. “But little by little we are turning the switch from Spanish to bilingual, and bilingual to monolingual. English is the language of business. If they insist to work and serve just to serve Spanish customers, they have a roof in their businesses because we are just 17 percent of the population.”

Programs like these show that there is a cultural shift happening in the state but it still is a majority English-speaking, white area. But with the way that demographics are swinging and with the booming Latinx business economy, the Latinx community will continue to grow in Utah. Maybe, in a few years, English-centered businesses will have to learn Spanish in order to stay competitive. Until then, the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce will be there to make being an entrepreneur a reality for Latinx individuals.   

Latinx business owners bringing value to Utah

Story and photos by KAELI WILTBANK

Hector Uribe stepped out from behind the restaurant kitchen, dressed in a white apron and a University of Utah cap. He sat down on a stool inside the lobby of the restaurant his father-in-law passed on to him in 2011 and began explaining his journey toward becoming a business owner.

Uribe explained that he grew up in Mexico and learned the value of hard work from a young age. He explained, “I ditched school when I was in sixth grade, so I was 11 years old when I went to work for somebody else to make money to help out the family.”

Uribe came to the United States from Mexico when he was just 17 years old and started working at his father-in-law’s restaurant weeks after his arrival in 1992. His plan was to save enough money to open up a hardware store back in Mexico. But, he said business owners in Mexico face great dangers because they are at risk of being robbed by the cartel. Uribe realized greater success was awaiting him as a business owner in Salt Lake City.

Hector’s, the chosen name of the company after Uribe took it over, has become a popular Mexican food destination for locals, with both the man and his food becoming iconic elements of the community.

A group of students from Highland High School recently came and interviewed Uribe about his journey as a business owner, he said. They were looking to speak with a successful person in the community, but Uribe explained, “I don’t see myself that way, I just think I am hard working.”

Salt Lake City was recently ranked as one of the best metropolitan areas for minority entrepreneurs to start a business. With the Latinx population becoming the second most rapidly growing demographic of the state of Utah, there has been a corresponding influx of Latinx-owned businesses. 

According to the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, 10,000 businesses in the state of Utah are Latinx-owned and operated. 

Rebecca Chavez-Houck, a former Utah State House representative, is a third-generation American, with her grandfather immigrating to the United States from Mexico. While immigrants like Uribe are seen as successful business owners, Chavez-Houck is familiar with the negative connotations associated with immigrants. She said, “There is this notion of the deficit within communities of color, instead of looking at where our strengths are. Yes, notably persons of color are more within the criminal justice system. We have challenges with poverty and a variety of different things, but that’s not all who we are.” She added, “We are a much more complex community than that.”

Nera Economic Consulting found that nationally, “Latinos are responsible for 29 percent of the growth in real income since 2005.” With successful Hispanic-owned businesses dotting the Utah map, the positive impact brought by the Latinx community is significant to the local economy. The study continued, “They account for roughly 10 cents of every dollar of US national income, and that proportion is rising both due to growth in the Latino population and rising per capita earnings.” 

Uribe spoke with gratitude as he described the opportunity he has had to operate a business of his own. “When we come over here we are happy to have a job. I don’t say it’s a necessity for Hispanics to own their own business, but if there’s an opportunity you need to take it. It’s not as easy to start a business there (in Mexico).”

Alex Guzman, president and CEO of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, explained to a group of students at the University of Utah, “The Hispanic business community, in the majority of cases, open businesses not because they want to be an entrepreneur, but because they have to provide for their families, so they become business owners with no intention of becoming business owners. But,” he said, “as business owners, they need to learn how to run a business. They need to learn how to file taxes, they need to know how to hire, how to do invoicing, how to deal with customers, how to marketing and sales, human resources, legal issues, etc.”

Offering resources and a supportive community, the UHCC provides local Latinx business owners and entrepreneurs with valuable tools they need to succeed. Guzman explained, “We created a program called The Business Academy. Every 10 weeks we start a new program where we train the Hispanic community on how to do business in the U.S.” 

The rapidly growing Latinx community in Utah has made an impact on the local economy and culture of the state. Resources offered by the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce have become valuable tools for business owners and entrepreneurs like Uribe. His words of wisdom to other entrepreneurial-minded people in the community was, “You’ve got to do everything you can and do it the best you can so you don’t ever feel like you left something behind. The world is full of opportunities and you just need to feel which one you want to take.”

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Making a difference: The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Story and photo by TYSON ALDRIDGE

The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (UHCC) located on 1635 S. Redwood Road can be an effective tool for businesses and business owners to achieve success. According to the UHCC website, it was founded in 1991 and serves as an advocate for the Hispanic business community in Utah. UHCC recognizes that the Hispanic community in Utah is large and that it is also a very vital part of the state. The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was formed with the idea of diversity in commerce in mind.

UHCC does everything it can to ensure that its members are being recognized by the community. According to the UHCC website, being a member of UHCC has many benefits, including free advertising, training on financing programs, and free professional development workshops. In addition, to help businesses and business owners, UHCC offers a number of networking opportunities, community involvement, and much more.

UHCC bridges the gap between government and business owners. One of the biggest advantages to being a member is receiving legislative updates from UHCC. These updates can help businesses understand new laws and legislation that may have been confusing. According to a 2017 Utah Business article, UHCC helped secure a deal with the Utah legislature that aimed to promote trade between Mexico and the state of Utah. The chamber got this deal done with the Hispanic business community of Utah in mind and to reaffirm the strong relationship between the United States and Mexico.

By being an advocate for businesses and entrepreneurs, business owners can focus on their work, rather than dealing with legislation themselves. Alex Guzman, president and CEO of UHCC, says, “Hispanic businesses and business owners need to learn how to pay taxes and file taxes. Our Business Academy that is every 10 weeks, is a great tool to teach the Hispanic community on how to run a business.” The Business Academy, which is free to members, teaches planning, marketing, communication, hiring, customer service, and more.

After completion of the course, one should be able to manage their business more efficiently. The Business Academy isn’t the only class offered by UHCC. It offers several other professional development workshops throughout the year. These are an effective tool to learn the essentials of business and to improve one’s overall savviness as a business person.

UHCC is very important to the Hispanic community. Guzman told KSL in 2019, “In Utah, Latinos make up the largest immigration population at 17 percent. In the state of Utah, it’s very easy, simple and friendly to be a business owner.” Guzman added, “There are a little bit more than 15,000 business owners that label themselves as Hispanic at the Utah Department of Commerce.”

Businesses that are members of the UHCC see many benefits after joining. Ana Bullard, senior loan officer for Rock Mortgage Lending on 596 W. 750 South, said in an email that “the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has benefited a number of my clients. Their resources supporting businesses are vast. In addition to providing networking opportunities, the UHCC encourages community engagement and conducts professional development workshops. They educate business owners with information that can help them obtain grants and support growing their businesses. UHCC helps expand members’ talents, experience and opportunities.”

UHCC not only helps businesses achieve financial success, according to the UHCC website, but also helps businesses reach a larger audience by giving them advertising and marketing opportunities through its site and radio. By handling advertising, UHCC enables owners to focus on growing their business. Advertising can be very expensive and hard to navigate.

Socials are another tool that UHCC offers its members. According to the website, these socials are a way for businesses to network and meet other professionals who have the same goals in mind for their business.

There are many opportunities to expand your reach and the popularity of your business. When asked about why companies would want to join UHCC, Nicole Garcia of Madmarli Realty said through email, “I joined because of their multitude of networking opportunities and they also advertise their members on the site and radio.”

Bullard says, “The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is a valuable resource to anyone in the Hispanic community looking for business training/assistance, information and networking opportunities. The training UHCC conducts assists attendees through sales and business coaching, marketing, networking opportunities and more. No matter what type of business you have, UHCC can provide useful and relevant skills training and resources.”

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The benefits of joining UHCC are endless, and all members truly feel wanted. The UHCC’s mission statement is, “To provide leadership, opportunities for economic growth, professional development and community involvement for our members.”

Why the Latinx community is migrating to Utah

Story and photo by KILEE THOMAS

For five years in the 1990s, Alex Guzman provided the voice-over for Tony the Tiger in Latin America. That was just one of the jobs Guzman held during a long career in Guatemala working in marketing for the international advertising agency Leo Burnett and La Prensa Libre newspaper.

He was a recently elected senator in Latin America. But, he still couldn’t escape the threat of violence in his home country, regardless of his success. Guzman’s wife and children were nearly kidnapped. For the sake of their safety, they had to leave. The family immigrated to Utah 11 years ago because his daughter was already going to college in the state and it made sense to keep the family together.

Like Guzman, many immigrants choose to migrate to Utah because one or more family members already resides here. According to the American Immigration Council, one in 12 Utah residents is a native-born U.S. citizen with at least one immigrant parent.

In 2017, the Migration Policy Institute, reported that Utah’s population was composed of 8.7 percent of immigrants and 57.5 percent of those foreign-born residents were of the Latinx community.  

Similarly to most Utah immigrants, Guzman had to start all over from the bottom up in a new country, new culture and new language. Today he is president and CEO of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Despite the obstacles he faced, Guzman said he never forgot his passion and drive. “If the second door is closed, I want to make doors,” he said.

Guzman isn’t the only one who fled to Utah to escape the violence of their home country in an effort save their family.

Bryan Misael Vivas Rosas, a 25-year-old from Venezuela, had to leave everything behind to support his family. “The dictatorship of Maduro has the country almost in a civil war. People are starving, being shot, robbed. It’s not safe to walk down the street in the middle of the day, let alone at night,” Rosas said.

He left at the end of 2016 and moved to Utah to stay with a family friend until he got on his feet. “I had to leave my parents, my sister, good work opportunities and almost all of my possessions,” Rosas said.

Now as a self-made audio sound engineer in West Jordan, he has the opportunity and resources to financially aid his family back home, as well as his sister who has recently migrated from Venezuela to Utah in order to be closer to him.

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Bryan Misael Vivas Rosas working at an event as a DJ. Photo courtesy of Bryan Misael Vivas Rosas.

According to the American Migration Council, Utah’s largest Hispanic immigrant population comes from Mexico, which makes up more than 43.2 percent of all immigrants residing in Utah. Like the 105,998 Mexican-born immigrants living in Utah, Clara Miramontes’s family immigrated to Utah from Mexico because of an already established family member living here.

Miramontes was only 5 years old when her family left Mexico to live with her mother’s sister in Magna, Utah, and although she said she doesn’t remember much of the immigration process, she remembers the expectations going in. “When moving to a new country, you have high hopes or else, you would feel like you’d never make it,’ she said.

At 17, she’s a soon-to-be graduate of Cyprus High School with a full-time scholarship in hand to attend Westminster College in fall 2019 to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. She also works along with her mother as a peer mentor at Matheson Junior High.

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Clara Miramontes assisting a student at Matheson Junior High. 

Miramontes said she believes she puts in the effort to make full use of her opportunities now because she doesn’t want her family’s sacrifices to go to waste. “My parents gave up more than me. They gave up their career, their family, their livelihood just to give me and my siblings a better life,” she said.

Although many immigrants come to the United States to pursue better opportunities, the immigration process and politics surrounding it have caused issues. Miramontes said she believes the topic of immigration would be less controversial if it was seen from a more understanding approach and perspective.

She said she hopes for more compassion from people. “I wish people knew that we are not here to take everyone’s jobs or do illegal things. Some of us want to live a better life and have a prosperous future. I think all of the sacrifices people make to come here should be appreciated and taken into account,” Miramontes said.

During the government shutdown that lasted from Dec. 22, 2018, until Jan. 25, 2019, Alex Guzman said some 35,000 applications for immigration were placed to the side. Consequently, he said, it will take 10 years to solve and reprocess those applications.

And although it will take time to fix, Guzman doesn’t think there is anything that will stop immigration from happening in Utah or the United States.“There will always be a ladder taller than that wall,” Guzman said about the structure that President Trump seeks to have built along the U.S.-Mexico border.

 

Juan Chacon, a Mexican immigrant turned restaurant owner

Story and photo by KILEE THOMAS

Situated in Kearns, Utah, is the authentic Mexican restaurant, Acapulco. The family-run and -operated restaurant opened 1991 at its original location (just a few blocks away) before reopening at its current location at 4722 4015 West. 

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Acapulco Mexican restaurant is particularly known for its smothered burrito.

Juan Chacon, a 61-year-old Mexican immigrant, is the man behind the popular eatery, Acapulco. Chacon sat in a corner booth toward the rear of his restaurant.

The atmosphere has a homey and nostalgic feeling with its giant box TV screening the latest American football game, the tables filled with endless chips and salsa baskets and the walls covered with hanging swordfish, sombreros, original Hispanic paintings as well as a giant mural of the ocean that takes up the entirety of the back wall.

He looks around his restaurant with a warm smile before taking off his Houston baseball cap.

Chacon believed fate intervened with his journey to the United States. “It’s destiny, I guess,” Chacon said. He wasn’t escaping violence or seeking asylum. He saw it as a simple opportunity to live a different life.

He left his family farm in Chihuahua, Mexico, in 1978 when he was 20 years old. He wasn’t searching for valued success, he was searching for purpose. “I didn’t need money, I wanna do something,” Chacon said.

He started working at a Chinese restaurant in Salt Lake City when he arrived in Utah before going back to his home town to spend time with his father for three months. When Chacon returned to Salt Lake City later that year, he landed a job at a Mexican restaurant where he worked the food line in the kitchen.

Chacon said this is where he learned how to run a restaurant. When he decided to leave the restaurant, he took a souvenir on his way out. “I stole the menu thinking, ‘one day I want to start my own restaurant,’” he said.

Chacon decided to open up the authentic Mexican restaurant with his brother to be his own boss and do things “my way,” he said. He reaches over, grabs the baseball hat and places it back on his head. “I believe to run a business, the first thing you have to do is work hard,” Chacon said.

He might be the owner, but he is also the dishwasher, cook, waiter and host. “I don’t get tired of working here everyday because I use to do this, but I use to do it for somebody else.” He points at the clock. “I can leave when I want, but I stay later than supposed to because I love talking with our customers.”

This type of friendly and outgoing energy is what’s kept Tiffanie and Rob Hargis loyal customers for the past 22 years. “We go at least one to two times a week. Their family always know when we are there and they come out to talk to us to see how we are doing,” she said.

The Hargises always make it a point to go to Acapulco for all of their family celebrations and get-togethers. “We have so many special memories tied to this restaurant. We have been going here for so many years after lacrosse practices and games, for birthdays and holidays,” Rob said.

Chacon and his family have built a special relationship with their customers. A relationship that goes past the usual bond between restaurant owner and customer; a relationship that feels more like family.

“When our parents passed away we gave them a huge picture for their wall that was in our parents’ house and it looks great in there. It’s like part of our family is there,” Tiffanie said. The southwestern picture of a pink sand-colored home and dusty pink sky is hung up in the back corner of the restaurant.

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Tiffanie and Rob Hargis donated the painting to the restaurant. Photo courtesy of Rob Hargis.

While the success of Chacon’s restaurant is something to be proud of, the journey that led him to where he is today wasn’t an easy one. It was costly.

When he first came to Utah, he bought a new $1,700 truck with the money that he had saved. The INS, otherwise known as ICE today, took away his truck after he was pulled over and asked for legal documentation.

Chacon paused for a moment. Becoming emotional from the pain of this memory, he said, “I still remember their faces.” Closing his eyes, he takes a deep breath and shakes his head as if to shake away the memory.

“They told me it wasn’t my car anymore. It belongs to the U.S. Government.” Chacon said he remembers feeling hopeless because the officers warned him not to get lawyers involved. He said the agents told him it would be a useless ploy that would cost him more than what he’d already lost.

“In Mexico, they always talk about freedom in the U.S. and that day, I found out it wasn’t really true,” he said.

He smiles as a way to relieve the built-up emotion in the room.

“I still have the truck’s title,” he said with a laugh.

Chacon may believe that the restaurant and his life today is in thanks to some sort of  divine intervention or fate, but his beloved family and customers think his determination to learn, fight against adversity head on and to live life “his way” is the center and heart of why Acapulco is the favorite restaurant to so many, even 27 years later.