A Family Affair

After meeting on a blind date in Mexico City and getting engaged only three weeks later, Pepe and Deborah Stepensky packed up their belongings and moved to San Diego to pursue new careers, unsure of what their lives would be like in a completely foreign place. Decades before, Deborah’s father traveled to Venezuela, a country he had never set foot in, after being rescued from a concentration camp during the Holocaust in Poland. Their own forays into the unfamiliar led to more opportunities and better lives for Pepe, Deborah, and Deborah’s father.
According to Pepe, the Stepenskys became the third family to own the Porkyland restaurants, formerly located in Barrio Logan, La Jolla and at San Diego State University, around 10 years ago. Porkyland, originally a tortilla factory, was founded in Mexico in 1982. Under their control, they relocated to open another location in Torrey Hills that opened in 2015 and another located just a couple of minutes away from TPHS that opened in April. 
Before buying the Porkyland franchises, Pepe and Deborah held a variety of jobs. Originally, the two graduated with communications degrees in Mexico, and Pepe took on a desk job in advertising, while Deborah pursued a career in television and directed TV programs. When they moved to San Diego around 30 years ago, Pepe and Deborah started working in the dry-cleaning business and eventually made their way into the restaurant industry. After making their start in Seaport Village with two restaurants in a food court, Deborah started doing the accounting for the Porkyland there, and Pepe began training the employees who worked at that location. With increased involvement in the restaurant, they eventually bought the business. According to Pepe, ownership brought on a new set of responsibilities and learning opportunities for the duo, as they had to “teach themselves” how to run a restaurant without having been given instructions from others.
“We learned the hard way by checking and by being creative and doing our research and looking at different restaurants and food kinds,” Pepe said.
However, according to Deborah, hard work and persistence are what allowed the Stepenksys to become the owners of Porkyland and achieve the success they have attained today. The enterprising couple attribute the welcoming Carmel Valley community as a contribution to Porkyland’s growth and prosperity.
“[The Carmel Valley community is] very supportive,” Pepe said. “It’s a very nice and close community, and they really support locals. They like to come here, [and] they really support us.”
Being family-oriented is one of the core elements that make up the restaurant for the Stepenskys. In addition, the restaurants combine authentic Mexican food with a modern atmosphere. These attributes help contribute to the overall goal set by the Stepenskys.
“[The goal is] to grow, to have more restaurants, and to be able to serve the community here, and maybe somewhere else,” Deborah said.
One factor that has helped the business grow has been its use of social media and online delivery services, such as UberEATS and Amazon Restaurants. Porkyland also has an app available for mobile phones, so customers can place orders for pick-up at their two locations. The couple’s two daughters, Jessica (‘06) and Alejandra (‘09), and their son, Fernando (‘15), have helped Pepe and Deborah “modernize the restaurants” and improve their methods of using social media to advertise for Porkyland and promote the restaurants, since they are more familiar with popular forms of social media. Jessica, Alejandra and Fernando also ensure that those in charge of managing Porkyland’s social media accounts are “doing a good job,” according to Fernando. 
“[My sisters and I] could just like easily give them tips on what to do or talk to their social media manager,” Fernando said. “Since we’re so young and we grew up with social media, it was just really easy for us to help them in that sense.”
Moving seems to be something the Stepenskys are comfortable with, as Pepe and Deborah moved to the U.S. to pursue new careers and still continue to expand Porkyland to new locations. According to Fernando, his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, also fearlessly settled down in Mexico and started his own business, proving that bravery and determination seem to run in the family.
While Porkyland is only owned by Pepe and Deborah, the entire Stepensky family pitches in. Pepe oversees all of the managing jobs and deals with customer service, while Deborah creates many of the recipes used by Porkyland’s chefs, manages food control and handles the the business accounting. Fernando said, when Pepe and Deborah got involved with Porkyland, when the restaurants were located in Southeast San Diego and in La Jolla, he and his sisters occasionally worked as cashiers or made deliveries for Porkyland during the summer or over school breaks. However, they did not have a very solid understanding of the roles Pepe and Deborah had in the business and did not feel as connected to the restaurants. But, after the relocations to Torrey Hills and Del Mar Heights, Fernando and his sisters were able to feel more “intimately involved” with the business and help their parents more; for example, Fernando occasionally picks up or delivers supplies for Porkyland when he is out and about. He appreciates the fact that Porkyland has relocated to areas that are closer to where he lives in San Diego, since it is easier for him to take friends and eat there, while also being able to see his parents more often.
“In the past, [my sisters and I] had a very basic understanding [of what goes on at Porkyland],” Fernando said. “I think we never really saw how much work goes into it and stuff … But now that it’s so close and I’ve worked there and I go there a lot and stuff like that, we see how much work they put in, we see how the business functions and stuff that we totally didn’t see before.”
The fact that both his parents and his grandfather moved to new places to begin new lives makes Fernando proud, as they are taking significant risks and gained knowledge from their mistakes along the way to find success in an area unfamiliar to them.
“I think [my parents and grandfather] both went places where they didn’t necessarily have a full plan in place,” Fernando said. “Then they just kind of went with it, and then something eventually ended up working…that’s where they focused their time after they saw what worked … it’s crazy to see how our parents took huge risks that we probably would never take.”
The risks ultimately paid off for both Fernando’s parents and his grandfather, and their decisions have led to the successful continuation of Porkyland in different parts of San Diego. The drive that inspired Pepe and Deborah to leave Mexico and move to San Diego drives their long-time involvement in the community. They are grateful to the Carmel Valley area and to the schools in the community for helping them raise three successful and well-adjusted children and for supporting their own businesses. Their perseverance and their pride in their work is appreciated by their neighbors and fellow businesspeople. And the feeling is mutual. 

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