In 1997, José Cruz packed his bags, left the seminary and his family in Michoacán, and got a job cutting lettuce in California. He didn’t speak English. At that time, he had one goal: to earn enough money to buy a pickup truck and go back to Mexico. “My village was poor,” he says. “A truck meant I could transport firewood.”
Working the farm lost its charm quickly. “It was painful,” he recalls. “This was work for animals. I knew there was no way to succeed.” So he called a friend in Park City and moved to work at the Yarrow Hotel as a houseman making $5.75 an hour. “I needed a second job just to survive,” he says. “I was a hungry lion, and I wanted to succeed.”
A year later, he got a job as a pizza delivery boy and met his wife Elizabeth. “Those two events changed my life,” he says. Years later, he was offered a job as the manager of a Mexican restaurant. “I was there for half an hour and called the owner and told him it wasn’t for me,” he says. “I didn’t want to work for anyone else. I told him I wanted to deliver food for him instead.”
His entrepreneurial spirit sparked. In 2006, he opened Speedy Fernandez delivery service with two cell phones serving six restaurants. “At first, it was just two friends sending flyers,” he explains. But it grew quickly, and six years later he opened Park City Chinese and Thai.
Fast-forward to last fall, when Cruz purchased Tarahumara, a Mexican restaurant in Midway, which brings the tally of businesses he owns to six: five in Utah and one in Mexico. “My wife and I have six children,” he says. “We make every decision together, as a family, around the dinner table. They are the reason I am successful.”
He’s currently writing a book to inspire others. “You can come from the ashes and rise as high as you want to,” he says. “Your past doesn’t determine your future. You can come from nothing and become what you want to become.”