Spirit of Alabama: Tuscaloosa businessman has humble beginnings

Most people living in the U.S. are descendants of immigrants or are immigrants themselves, so Jheovanny Gomez’s story isn’t unordinary. What makes his life extraordinary is when he moved from Colombia to Tuscaloosa in 1999, he had no idea his dreams would become reality. But with a lot of hard work and dedication, Gomez turned his entrepreneurial spirit into a successful and growing food empire.

So what’s the secret behind Gomez’s Jalapenos Mexican Grill? There’s not one, unless you count good employees, fresh ingredients and hard work.

“I love what I do, and if I could do it all over again I probably would do it,” Gomez said. “This is all I know. This is my livelihood now, so I love it.”

What Gomez brought to Tuscaloosa more than 20 years ago was his solid work ethic, family values and appreciation for the freedom he found here.

“People kill and get killed every day to come to the United States because this is the land of opportunities,” Gomez said. “This is the home of the free. This is where if you have dreams, they become reality. If you work hard and if you’re honest this is where all your dreams come true.”

Gomez and business partner Justin Grimball were up against some massive challenges over the past two years, the same as most other businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But some time between masked-up employees running food from the kitchen to cars lined up in the parking lot waiting on to-go orders, it finally sunk in how all that effort paid dividends in loyal and supportive customers.

The realization was humbling, he said.

“As they were running the food out, waiters would come in with tears in their eyes saying ‘I just got a $100 tip on a $20 order,’ ” he said. “That tells you the support that we have from this community, I mean, what else can I tell you?”

And Jalapenos is expanding even further now, almost by accident. Their fajita gumbo soup wound up with a reputation of its own. So much so that they’re packing and shipping it to buyers across the country.

“The sky’s the limit,” Gomez said. “We’re not only selling in grocery stores, Piggly Wiggly here, 5 stores, Marks Mart in downtown Northport. The fajita gumbo’s been in New York, Pennsylvania, we’re just shipping this morning to Montana. It’s amazing.”

If you’d have told him the day he set foot in Tuscaloosa back in 1999 that he’d eventually own three bustling restaurants in the area, he’d have said you’re crazy.

“I would have never thought in a million years that we’re going to be where we are right now,” Gomez said.

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