Jorge Estevez says rural Pennsylvanians are eager for quality homestyle international cuisine, so last year the Cuban-American general manager of Ichiban Hibachi and Ichiban Oriental unveiled Everybody’s Buffet, serving Asian and American cuisine in the small town of Stroudsburg, in the Pennsylvania Poconos. The three restaurants are worth about $6 million and employ 50 people, all of them Americans.
Estevez’s family story is a typical immigrant story: people arriving with little and working their way up. Upon landing in New Jersey with his young family, Estevez’s father worked at a box factory and on side construction jobs before starting his own construction company. Meanwhile, Estevez, one of four children, graduated high school, joined the U.S. Air Force and later pursued a career in logistics, distribution, and management. But he soon followed in his father’s footsteps, striking out on his own. “When you are trained to be a manager, you can jump into any field,” he says. “As long as you learn the operations, you can run it.” Though he knew nothing about flowers, he purchased two shops and ran them successfully for 10 years. After the recent recession, margins narrowed and he decided to move into the restaurant business.
If we have immigration reform, and if it’s done right, it would be a tremendous help because we’d be able to hire people who can make a big contribution.
Over the course of his career, Estevez has become increasingly convinced that the American economy would benefit from immigration reform. Estevez sees companies that train workers, only to discover later that the workers had presented fake documents. Committed to following the law, the companies lose an employee and eat the hiring costs. “You spend all that time training that person, then you have to get rid of someone who is a great asset to your company,” says Estevez. “It breaks your heart to do that.”
Employers that knowingly hire undocumented workers, meanwhile, “are exploiting them too,” he says. Estevez understands that businesses rely on low-cost labor to make a profit, but there are other ways to find affordable workers, he says. One solution starts at the top, with immigration reform: Increase the number of work visas available to those who work in food and service industries. Let them work here legally. Give them room and board. ”Treat them right and pay them right,” he says. An open immigration system would attract a strong workforce and strengthen the economy.
“This country was built on immigrants,” Estevez says. “If we have immigration reform, and if it’s done right, it would be a tremendous help because we’d be able to hire people who can make a big contribution.” He’d like to see a system that allows new immigrants to pursue the American Dream just as he and his father did. Estevez is proud of the businesses he has built up and the staff that he manages, all of whom are naturalized U.S. citizens. “When you look around, everyone immigrated from somewhere,” he says. “That’s the beauty of America.”