A Utah Food Empire Grown From Beans

By Jennifer W. Sanchez
Community Collaborations Director

Jorge Fierro dropped out of college in Mexico to head to el norte because he wanted something more. He had no idea he’d later become a strong supporter of United Way of Salt Lake (UWSL) and its annual Day of Caring. Each year more than 3,000 people participate in UWSL’s Day of caring by volunteering in dozens of community-service projects.

Fierro has been in Utah for 26 years, and he’s elated to be a part of the community. “I always had a fascination to come to the United States,” said Fierro, the second eldest of eight children and the son of a rancher and small business owner. Fierro entered the United States as an undocumented worker. He worked as a sheepherder, dishwasher and bus boy. In June 1985, Fierro moved to Utah alone. He stayed at the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake then at the Road Home Men’s Shelter for a month. Fierro worked at temporary jobs, from construction to roofing, to make ends meets. He later lived at St. Mary’s Home for Men, a Catholic Community Services of Utah program.

Fierro said he enjoyed living in Salt Lake City, but he missed Mexican food and was “disgusted” by the refried beans in a can. “I thought, maybe I can sell beans to these gringos,” he said. In 1997, Fierro started selling frijoles de la olla (pinto beans) at the city’s Farmer’s Market. A year later, he opened Rico Market and eventually started catering. In 2000, he started selling Rico Mexican food products in stores. “I never thought I would sell beans for a living,” he joked.

When he started catering UWSL events more than 10 years ago, Fierro recognized that several of the community agencies that helped him were funded by UWSL to provide services. Since then, he’s been a UWSL investor by providing food and space. He specifically gives because he loves the work of the UWSL Women’s Philanthropic Network (WPN), a group that invests in immigrant and refugee integration in Utah.
“I realize how important the philosophy of United Way is for people like myself,” he said. “It’s something I can do to help a group of women that’s helping my people.”

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