Jaime Lepe ’08, Catering Manager, Mexico Lindo and Tropical Mexico

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Jaime Lepe ’08

“I spoke with some people who attended the CIA, and they sounded so excited about the ACAP curriculum. And they all had great jobs right after school.” – Jaime Lepe ’08

Certificate: Accelerated Culinary Arts Program (ACAP)
Hometown: Ontario, CA

Building the Skills to Help the Family Business Thrive

Jaime Lepe, Jr. ’08 grew up in the restaurant business. His father is president and treasurer of JML Mexican Restaurant, Inc. in Pomona, CA, which owns Mexico Lindo and Tropical Mexico restaurants. “Every day after school, I would be at the restaurant until closing,” says Jaime, catering manager of the organization. “The cooks and waitresses were my day care. After my homework was done, I’d peel potatoes or shrimp to help out my dad. It’s a family-run business, with all of us invested and involved in its success.”

Jaime’s father, who had no formal culinary education of his own, was determined that his eldest son attend college. “My dad worked hard all of his life,” Jaime explains, “and wanted his children to get the best education.” Jaime first earned a degree in hotel restaurant management from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. “After graduation, I went back to work with my parents,” he says. “I felt there was more I could do to increase business, and started looking into culinary programs that would expand on my hospitality degree. I checked out a couple of schools, but found myself returning to the CIA’s website. I spoke with some people who attended the CIA, and they sounded so excited about the ACAP curriculum. And they all had great jobs right after school.”

One feature of the program was particularly important to Jaime: the time factor. “I wanted something quick so I could get back to work as soon as possible,” he says. “I was eager to identify significant areas of improvement for our restaurants, thereby expanding our business and, ultimately, giving my dad a chance to step back from the day-to-day.”

Once he was immersed in the ACAP, other benefits came to light. “There were only three culinary courses in my program at Cal Poly, so I was looking forward to spending time in the kitchen,” Jaime says. “At the CIA, you’re cooking every day and the chefs are always on you about attention to detail and timing. The chef-instructors trained and worked all over the world and are, quite literally, walking encyclopedias. You learn so much from them; they’re an incredible resource of information.”

Plus, the opportunity to work with a diverse group of students was enlightening. “It’s a learning experience in and of itself to be around people from all over the world,” Jaime explains. “You get different perspectives about people’s culinary influences and how they prepare their own recipes. You also develop a great network of faculty and classmates. If a classmate is in the area and needs help, I’ll send some workers and vice versa. The networking is priceless. The knowledge and assistance is just a simple phone call away.”

Like many students, Jaime took advantage of the opportunity to work catered events at the Greystone campus while completing his studies. “It gave me the experience I was looking for and solidified my plans to open a catering division in our family business,” he says. “My father is old school and didn’t want to do catering. He was leery about branching out and accommodating changing food trends.”

For Jaime, that’s part of the fun. “I really like the interaction I have with the customers. When you sound educated and know what you’re talking about, it easily sells the job,” he explains. “A sense of professionalism is the most important thing I got out of school. You come out of the ACAP very different from when you started. Now when you walk into another kitchen, you immediately see what’s wrong and how to make improvements. Your mind gets set to the structure of a professional kitchen; it must be clean and organized to work at optimal efficiency.”

When Jaime graduated from the ACAP, he was eager to return to the family business. “I made a lot of improvements based on what I learned at the CIA, starting with the uniforms. Presentation is so important and I wanted our staff to look clean and professional,” says Jaime. “I also started our catering division. The first year we did three catering events, the second year we did 150, and the third year, 300. This year we’ve already passed that mark. It’s my baby and I’ve seen it blossom.”

“Going to the CIA was an important step for me. It took me away from my family and our business for a time, but it was worth the effort and it is a great addition to my résumé,” Jaime says. “When people see you have CIA credentials, they know you’re serious about the profession. In the end, you stand out from the pack.”

Today Jaime helps carry on his father’s culinary traditions while venturing into new territories and expanding the business in a way that helps it stand out from the pack.

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