Si Señor Fresh Mex helping special needs employees find independence

Restaurant helping those with special needs

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A local restaurant is giving back to a community that is often overlooked.

A quick glance at Jimmy Giancola and you’d never guess he suffered a brain injury that almost killed him.

“I have major memory loss, I have right side weakness from my injury,” Giancola said.

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He was 24 years old and only weeks from graduating from culinary school when a snowboarding accident changed his life.

“I hit a fence going real fast. Fast enough to be able to crack my skull,” Giancola said.

He said it’s a miracle he’s even standing today and a blessing that he has a job.

He got a chance to get back in the kitchen thanks to a partnership between Employ U and Si Señor Fresh Mex on St. Johns Bluff Road.


Owner Johnny Mendez is currently training eight special needs employees.

“They're people who are very loyal, they’re on time, they’re there before time and are willing to stay after time,” he said.

Their training also goes beyond learning how to cook or serve -- they also learn independence.

For trainee Austin Hoffman, independence is everything.

“I like feedback from people. I want to make them happy,” Hoffman said.

Austin and Jimmy were honored Wednesday night for successfully completing their eight-week training.

But Mendez said it doesn’t end there. He wants people with special needs to know they’re always welcome at his restaurant, which is why he’s working on starting a nonprofit that will help him hire more special needs employees in the future.

“I want to make a difference in our community by starting with a little steppingstone,” said Mendez.

Jimmy and Austin are excited for their next chapter. They want people to know they’re not different.

“There’s still a chance, there is still a life that you were handed for a reason,” Giancola said.

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