“I was stunned and shocked and left speechless,” said Andrade, who earned his culinary arts degree at Sinclair Community College and a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management in Chicago.
“I had strongly tied my identity to the industry I fell in love with. It was difficult for me to adjust to,” he said.
Andrade returned to Dayton and moved in with his parents, thinking at first he would be able to get another restaurant job. But he feared getting COVID-19 and giving it to his parents, especially because he believed many restaurant workers were not adequately protected from infection.
“That was something I was not willing to expose myself to,” Andrade said. “That’s why I made the decision to go back to Sinclair and expand my employment options.”
He returned to college in May and, with his previous degree credits, will be able to earn an associate degree in general business management in two semesters.
“The basic goal is to find a job. But it is still to get it related as close to hospitality as I can,” Andrade said. “I am expanding my interest to human resources, as that is an area that is very much in demand. And I plan to open my own restaurant.”
Andrade said he struggled with losing his job and seeing his plans to pay off his college debt early evaporate.
“What’s really helped me try to navigate this hard time is focusing on my mental health and hobbies,” said Andrade. “And that my worth wasn’t tied to a paycheck. I think that is the biggest thing I learned from this time.”
For Thomas the big moment of clarity came when he caught COVID-19, he believes at work, in the spring of 2020.
“I’ve never felt that close to death in my life. It was bad. That’s the only thing that ever scared me like that in my life,” Thomas said. “I had fluid in my lungs. I was scared of the hospital because everyone I knew that got on a ventilator died.”
The father of four said he didn’t want to infect anyone or go to the hospital, so he nursed himself back to health alone.
Thomas said he realized then that what he really wanted to do was to quit building fire trucks at Sutphen Corp. in Urbana, and expand his part-time taco food truck business he had started in 2019 using his mom’s popular taco recipe.
“All I did was have time to lie there and think. That was a driving force,” said Thomas. “Everyone doesn’t want to be an entrepreneur. Some people love the security of getting a paycheck every week. I feel like I’m self-driven.”
He gave his two weeks notice and never returned to Sutphen.
With most restaurants shut down or doing take-out only, Thomas said his food truck was a hit with people who still wanted to eat out. He parked in the Wright Dunbar Business District or at other locations like the Mall at Fairfield Commons. When he saw a tenant had left the mall food court, he jumped on the chance to rent the fully-equipped space.
His Taco Street Co. opened at the mall in February and he will open a second location this fall at the new W. Social Tap and Table being built in the Wright Dunbar district.
Thomas still runs the food truck and said he makes better money as an entrepreneur than he did at his old job, even though he’s dealt with seesawing revenue at the restaurant. He said it has been a daily learning experience and is just the sort of challenge he thrives on.
“Every day you don’t get the opportunity I have gotten,” Thomas said. “I guess my hard work paid off and God just gifted me.”
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