“I can’t even imagine those people who walk for days,” said Garcia, who crossed the United States-Mexico border holding a visa in his hand and riding in a late-model Chevy pickup.
Just 16 at the time, Garcia made a beeline to Chicago, where his uncle, Victor Pavilli, put him to work in a 4-star Italian restaurant that charged $100 a plate. Pavilli was an executive chef and Garcia showed a knack for cooking.
That experience laid the foundation for Garcia’s life now: chef and co-owner of Avanzare Italian Restaurant, 1908 S. Glenstone Ave.
Wealthy, but tough
Garcia hails from Jalisco, Mexico, where his father owned a ranch.
“We had a good life,” Garcia said. “We never needed anything.”
That privilege, combined with having family members who had lived in the United States for decades, helped give Garcia a legal path to the United States.
He wasn’t just a soft rich kid, though.
Garcia originally came to the United States to pursue a boxing career. He compiled a 12-0 record with 11 knockouts as a 5-foot-7, 135-pound fighter. He’s now 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds.
“Right now I’m heavy. I’m lazy,” he joked.
Boxing fell by the wayside by age 18. Cooking became his focus.
He married a U.S.-born woman, Carmen, in 1996, at which time he received a green card. He recently applied for citizenship.
What was supposed to be a temporary fill-in assignment in 1999 at Springfield’s Ristorante Teatro turned into a permanent stay. Garcia even gave up an opportunity to open a restaurant in New York City to remain in Springfield.
Ristorante Teatro was owned by marketing agency Noble & Associates before it closed to the public in 2003.
That change didn’t affect Garcia, though. He and Ziggie’s Café owner Agim Zendeli had already opened Avanzare in May 2002.
“I didn’t get here just because of myself and the hard work,” he said. “If you don’t have the support, you’re not going to be able to do it.”[[In-content Ad]]
Steve Childers to lead city’s key growth initiatives, including Forward SGF.