Rafael Diaz Diaz is the last of his family members to help his Mom at home in Puerto Rico with all family chores and worked for the Luis Vigoro and Echevarria Family, TV show personalities.
As young as 8 years old he learned about money management and great business practices from his Mom. Out of their home she ran a clothing and jewelry store, and an ironing and cleaning service, along with selling frozen limber juice in a cup, appetizers and other culinary specialties.
As a teenager, Rafael started his own business with a hot dog cart selling cube stakes, burgers, and sub sandwiches outside of the schoolyard.
A local bank counter manager purchased a Truck for Rafael to manage in addition to his own hot dog cart.
Rafael followed an opportunity to be a private driver for a Doctor in California. When she visited a Caribbean restaurant in Long Beach where she was served a Plantain dish that was “not authentic”. She told the owner she had the perfect solution, Rafael! After preparing one Plantain for them, he landed a job with them working on weekends. Shortly after, Rafael’s mother passed and he returned to Puerto Rico.
On his return to Puerto Rico, he had the opportunity to start a small kiosk seafood restaurant in a first floor space of an apartment building owned by his cousin.
The hurricane destroyed the apartment building along with everything on the Street. Rafael then began working with his older brother who specialized in carpentry. He learned how to build an entire house which set him up with the skills to work on his own properties.
Rafael began working at Palmas del mar Resort in Humacao doing light carpentry, as well as caring for the elderly family members of his neighbors.
The Move to Geneva, NY
Rafael’s neighbors would seasonally migrate to Geneva to work for Seneca Foods and convinced him to join them for the season. He told them, though, that if he came, he was going to stay and find his way in America. They secured him a ticket, camp and food to work for the season by recommending him to Seneca Foods, praising his hard when work taking care of their family members.
Before the end of camp season, he found an apartment on Seneca Street and stayed. The grandson of the sponsoring family stayed with Rafael and they worked together inside the factory at Seneca Foods.
Before long he was selling food from his apartment for Seneca Foods employees who live at the apartment complex. Then other employees at the factory started asking about the food. He began bringing samples and lunch orders followed!
As his business grew, Rafael left the factory. He replaced his job as a group leader, a maintenance worker, and a forklift operator in the shipping warehouse with his own business — the Restaurant on Wheels Food Truck. Through persistence and working with the City, he was able to have his food truck at the Farmers Market and it expanded from there.
He won the Geneva Business Improvement District’s (BID) Chile Soup Contest and received the award at the farmers market from the mayor. This spotlighted the many opportunities in Geneva for business support which he truly appreciates. This contest was just one occasion that he encountered to help grow his business as well as promote the Farmers Market.
Rafael opened a restaurant in Franklin Square with the help of a friend, Mark Varbaryany and his family, owners of the building, who encouraged him to follow his dream to have a Restaurant location in addition to his Food Truck.
He closed the restaurant in Franklin Square to find a smaller and more visible location while still working the food truck.
Persuaded by the Geneva BID, Rafael started the Festival Latino, a thriving Community Cultural Event. He was supported by a talented and generous group of individuals: Alejandra Molina (Geneva), Angel Gonzalez (Rochester), Felix Jordan (Ovid), and José Mora (Rochester). Rafael was duly recognized with a BID Award in 2013. Learn more about this event.
After working and saving since the close of his Franklin Square Restaurant, Rafael finally got his dream and opened his 284 Exchange Street Restaurant. He had his eye on the building since his move to Geneva in 2001. Every time he walked by the building he’d look into the window and say, “That’s going to be my restaurant!”
For all his work in the community, and as an industrious and determined businessperson, Rafael was given a Community Leader Award from Geneva City Hall, a truly well-deserved honor.