Joe Gonzales has never let setbacks hold him back.
When a dream job as Director of Operations for Yaw’s Restaurants ended with the company’s demise, Joe became an Admissions Representative for Western Culinary Institute (WCI). A debilitating stroke in 2009 ended his longtime career with WCI (later Le Cordon Bleu), but not his passion for using his talents. “I needed to look inward to my other strengths and found writing and speaking would work for entertaining myself,” he says. “I wasn’t going to sit around and grow old.”
And despite a second stroke in 2017, Joe has done anything but sit around. “I still grow old but I don’t sit around,” he laughs.
Born in Los Angeles, Joe was one of four boys raised by his mom and grandmother. He was married at 21 and his first child, Felicia, was born in 1974. In 1975, the company he worked for was sold and he had the opportunity to move to Oregon, where he finished his degree at Portland State University.
His son Garrett was born in 1981. As a commercial loan officer with US Bank, he found his restaurant account enticing and joined Yaw’s Top Notch in restaurant management.
At Yaw’s, “I found the glamour life of the hospitality industry,” he remembers. “As Director of Operations I was given a nice salary, car, use of their yacht, I sailed, played golf, was given an expense account … and then they folded.” The Yaws family had operated its business since 1926, expanding to five restaurants. Joe found himself suddenly unemployed, but he still considers it “a great experience with some wonderful people.”
He joined Western Culinary Institute (WCI) as an Admissions Representative and moved on to become Director of Public Relations and to develop weekend classes for the school. This allowed him to attend classes and learn from some of the finest Chef Instructors, giving him culinary skills and a lifelong love of cooking. He was invited to join the local American Culinary Federation Board of Directors, enhancing his culinary experience.
He also met and in 1996 married a WCI student named Judith; the two will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary this year. The couple has five granddaughters ranging in age from 2 to 16.
Le Cordon Bleu (LCB) bought WCI in the late 90s, leading to mass curriculum changes, personal job reassignments for Joe, and the relocation of the school to the Galleria in downtown Portland. Joe rolled with all those punches until his stroke in 2009 sidelined him. However, he is working on a book about WCI/LCB which features a history of the school, Chef Instructors, several students and events. He hopes to publish the book in 2021.
Joe’s books show his diverse knowledge and interests. His first publication was Stroke, Understanding It and Staying Positive. He followed that with Restaurants of Portland, Oregon 1957-1967, a fascinating look at the early history of the Portland restaurant scene. Book three, co-written with wife Judith, is Abuelita’s Cocina, Mexican-American Cookbook. He describes the inspiration for this book: “From a small town just outside of Jalisco, Guadalajara, México, to East Los Angeles, California, USA, a story of my Grandmother (Abuelita) unfolds with foods and recipes she cooked and created. Many meals and recipes that Mande made were handed down over generations, developed and/or memorized as a young woman. With helping to raise 4 boys, creativity was the call of the day and always challenged by individual tastes by her four grandchildren.”
Joe also wrote Backyard Adventures, a family book for all ages that he describes as “a goldmine of things to do in your own backyard.” Next was Neighborhood Classmates of East Los Angeles 1955-1968. Joe’s books have been featured at Powell’s Books, Made in Oregon, and he has appeared on Channel 2’s A.M. Northwest. Joe’s books are available through lulu.com.
Joe created a home business called Abacot Services through which he creates Affectionate Biography books for families. These are 25-75 page biographies of a loved one covering their life events in a short and positive manner.
He is also an ordained minister who performs wedding ceremonies, yet another way in which Joe brings positivity to his own life and the lives of others. “I always got recharged by weddings,” he says, but the pandemic has put a hold on those for now. abacot.webs.com/.
Many of us have had disappointments during the pandemic, but Joe and his wife Judith are creative in coping. When their December cruise to Alaska was canceled, they created the cruise experience in their own home, sponsored by J&J Cruise Lines aboard the “Oregano.” They decorated their home with nautical embellishments, and Judith created cruise-worthy cuisine from a number of different ethnicities. Joe wrote, “Join us as we cruise and enjoy several specialty dinners in our own Suite with not only a balcony but also a backyard … with birds, squirrels and a room cat too, on a ship. Why not?”
Speaking of cats, Joe and Judith recently adopted two cats, Milli and Kiki. “We rescue cats that have been declawed which many shelters (and some families) won’t take in. We don’t care about their age, physical condition, gender but only want to help declawed cats,” he says.
Joe’s positive outlook is an inspiration. After his second stroke he was told that he would be wheelchair bound, but through intensive rehabilitation at the Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon, working out at the gym (pre-pandemic) and lots of reading, “I can walk with a cane, drive and work out daily on a rehabilitation program,” he says. He strives to stay healthy for his grandchildren, children and wife. His motto: “If you want it to happen, then make it so.”
He sums up his life so far ~ “Throughout my life and career I have been lucky to fall in with some of the best, caring, smart, artistic and giving people one could ever ask for. My warmest and deepest thank you goes out to all of you. My wife and children are the stars and all of you are the sunshine.”