Fourteen years after emigrating from Cuba, Joel Exposito is finally the owner of his own restaurant.
Fresko Fine Foods at 642 Yates St. in Victoria has been a mixed-food venue for several years under different ownership, serving pizza and Mediterranean dishes at a low price. Now, Exposito hopes he can bring more Cuban culinary options to the area.
“Cooking just came to me naturally. I like it, all parts of the kitchen – baking, cooking and serving people,” Exposito said. “Even as a kid, I was in a boarding school in Cuba and always trying to help in the kitchen there.”
Exposito studied at a Cuban culinary arts school, and graduated to become a cook at a high-end hotel restaurant. That’s where he met a special Canadian woman.
“It’s a love story,” he said. “She brought me here.”
In 2005 Exposito moved to Victoria, where he quickly got a job as a cook at the Laurel Point Inn. He worked there for 10 years before staffing cuts cost him his job.
That’s when he heard a friend wanted to sell his restaurant.
“I didn’t have the money to buy the business, but I bought half with the plan to buy the whole business in the future,” he said.
As a partner he could learn about running a business, while working several other jobs to try to save up enough money.
“I’ve been doing all kinds of jobs: renovations, construction, landscaping, paving,” he said. “I tried to make money to buy the business and come back to the kitchen.”
This April that dream became a reality. Exposito bought the other half of the business, and closed the restaurant for three months to do renovations before reopening at the end of July.
As clientele builds up, some of Fresko’s classic dishes, such as pizza, will remain on the menu, but some new additions are also ready to order. This includes some of Exposito’s favourites, like Venezuelan arepas or Cuban sandwiches packed full of roast pork, ham, salami, bologna, Swiss cheese and a pickle, served with a soup or salad for just $10.
“I like giving people something with a reasonable price,” he said. “Everything in Victoria is more than $10 or $15. I want to have something like this where people can have a meal.”