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Alum of the Month: Silvano Hernandez '03
SJND Alumni Council Member Joe Leo ’96 has offered to help the Alumni Office by writing profiles on our graduates from various fields. This month Joe met up with Silvano Hernandez ’03 who is an entrepreneur and managing partner of Cinco Taco Bar in San Leandro.
Please briefly tell us about your time at SJND (I.e., activities, favorite memories, other highlights).
My SJND experience was bitter sweet. At first I did not like the school. I was somewhat of a rebellious type coming from a poor Oakland neighborhood and previously spent my time in public schools. I viewed SJND as too strict with their “tucked in shirts” policy. I spent a lot of time in detention; I was not the greatest student. In retrospect, the school simply refused to let me lose. I had a strong safety net of teachers and counselors. They never let me quit and pushed me. I begrudgingly followed their advice and it worked out well. Activities included lots of detention and I ran track. I was also part of the Latino Club. My favorite part of high school was the guidance of extremely talented teachers like Mr. Gravem, Mrs. Kubicek, Mrs. Levy Went, Mr. Williams, as well as many others.
Other memories are the very close friendships I formed with fellow classmates that I still see to this very day and the strong sense of community that high school had.
What college did you attend and what was your major?
I attended San Francisco State University directly after graduation. I was going to double major in English and Business Administration. During that time and my time at St. Joes I was an undocumented immigrant. I was brought into the United States when I was 4 years old by my parents. I realized college was not for me, so I dropped out after 3 years and pursued starting my own businesses.
Thankfully I am no longer undocumented. I was a DACA recipient and have since received my permanent residency. I am full lawful resident.
Why did you open your own business and what influenced your decision to do so?
I always followed my own path. I never liked the idea of having a “boss” and being told what to do. I liked to set my own hours. We live in the Bay Area, in my opinion, the greatest place for entrepreneurs and startups. All around me people were having extreme success starting businesses and I wanted to be a part of it. I was awed by companies like Yahoo!, eBay, Apple, Google, etc. In college, while everyone was studying, I was reading biographies on my heroes like Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Sam Walton and anybody who ever started a business. Those guys did it, why couldn’t I?
When did you first get the idea to start your own business?
I’ve wanted my own business since I was a child. The idea of the maverick CEO and trend setter always appealed to me. I started many businesses, some failed and some had varying degrees of success, but Cinco Taco Bar is by far my greatest achievement.
Why a restaurant versus another type of business?
While at St. Joes I worked at La Piñata Mexican Restaurant (Now La Penca Azul) since I was 15. I wanted to help my mom pay my high school tuition. There I met Octavio Guzman, owner and operator of the La Piñata restaurant chain. (Octavio is the father of Octavio ’16 and Cynthia ’20).
He taught me the restaurant business and became my mentor, brother, partner and lifelong friend. After my last business, a tequila company, floundered, I decided to try my hand in the restaurant business. I came up with the concept and recruited a good team. Then Octavio, as well as two other partners, helped me bring Cinco Taco Bar to life.
Was there anything that you learned at SJND that you apply today in running your business?
Absolutely! The values of hard work ethic, commitment to finishing projects, to carry myself in a respectful way and to have a strong sense of faith in God were all taught to me at SJND.
The specific classes that opened some doors for me were Photoshop and English. Also, leadership skills, because when running a business, every second counts. There are so many moving parts, so Carpe Diem! Seize the day, the SJND mantra.
When did you open Cinco Taco Bar?
I opened Cinco Taco Bar August 23, 2017 in San Leandro. I am opening our second location this December in Livermore.
What advice would you give to the SJND community on following your dreams?
Your life is truly a miracle. You only get one at bat, you only have one life to live, so make it count. Take calculated risks, break the rules, but don’t break the law. Take a chance. If you have a dream, pursue it. If it’s never been done before, that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. Do some research. Find people who are already successful doing what you want to do and follow them. Like Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” If you don’t know those people, then read their books and biographies. Find out how they did it and try and emulate them.
I only have one son. He is 10 years old and he is the love of my life. I became a dad when I was 23 years old. At the time I was not ready to be a dad but my son has taught to be a better man. He inspires me to work harder and set a good example for him. I am heavily involved in his life and he is one of the driving forces behind my decisions to start my businesses.
Any other thoughts you want to add for this story and/or pass on to the community?
You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take. Travel and make friends. If you think someone is cute ask them out. Be good to your parents and siblings. Help others without expecting anything in return. The universe will repay you. Network and believe in yourself. Don’t fear hard work or a challenge; the rewards after a tough struggle will feel amazing.