People of the Year

2023 Businessperson of the Year: Luis Siguencia

Golden Jalapeños Café in Calverton gave away so many free Thanksgiving dinners to veterans and community members in need this year that Geidi Lezama, wife of business owner Luis Siguencia, stopped counting.

Mr. Siguencia and his family, of Flanders, opened Golden Jalapeños Café in 2014. For almost a decade, he’s been giving back to the community in this way, which is why he was chosen as Riverhead News-Review’s 2023 Businessperson of the Year.

“If I had money I would do it all the time,” Mr. Siguencia told the News-Review in a 2019 interview. “But I do it once a year.”

Ms. Lezama echoed that sentiment in a recent phone interview.“We would love to be able to give more back but this is as much as we can do,” she said. “We’re just happy that at least that day, we can be able to share one hot meal for people, it’s just this wonderful thing.”

Golden Jalapeños Café’s social media posts feature a thank-you message to all the community members who volunteered for the giveback this year, held both in Calverton and at their new location in Yarmouth, Mass., which opened just six months ago.

After Kathy Kruel’s mother died three years ago, Thanksgiving was challenging for her because it was her mother’s favorite holiday. The day became easier for her after she and her husband, Tommy, began volunteering at the Thanksgiving givebacks.

“He’ll help anyone, and he tries to hire people that can use the help,” she said. “He’s just an all-around great guy.”

Mr. Siguencia immigrated to the United States from Ecuador at 14 years old. In 1992, he started working as a dishwasher at Bartolinos in Astoria, Queens. Before the year had passed, he’d worked his way up to a line chef position and by 1994, he was top chef. 

He then attended the Culinary Academy of Long Island to perfect his craft. He spent 14 years as head chef at World Pie in Bridgehampton. His specialties are Italian and French cuisines. He mastered Tex-Mex with the help of Ms. Lezama, who is from Mexico and specializes in Spanish cuisine. His menu now includes all different styles of food.

The annual Thanksgiving giveback initiative is a family affair for Mr. Siguencia.

“I want to teach my kid to do the right thing,” he told the News-Review in 2019. “I got my daughter; I hope one day she’ll be doing the same. The kids grow up the way we teach them. The way my parents taught me to be is the way I turned out and I hope my daughter does, too.”

The family also serves free meals at Westhampton’s 106th Rescue Wing each year on Sept. 11, Ms. Lezama said.

Ruth Budd, a customer of Golden Jalapeños Café, was floored when she learned of his selflessness.

“I found out that he was donating meals to the staff at the hospital. He was donating to numerous places during COVID for the essential workers that had to work,” she said. “He also made donations to the ambulance departments in Riverhead and Flanders; he’s very giving to the community.”

Ms. Budd also volunteers at Mr. Siguencia’s Thanksgiving giveback events.

“It’s been great to see how thankful people are and how it makes his family feel,” she said. “He really enjoys giving to his community.”

Jill Tapia travels from Laurel to Calverton to support Mr. Siguencia and his business.

“From what I’ve observed, he’s an extremely generous man,” she said. “Just this past Thanksgiving, I don’t even know how many turkeys he cooks or how many he gives out to people, but no one is ever turned away to come and have a hot meal on his behalf.”

Ms. Lezama thanked the community for supporting Golden Jalapeños Café, which she said makes it possible to give back in this way.

“We’re really blessed that we can do this,” she said. “I just hope that people will keep supporting us so we’ll also be able to [continue] with our journey, keep doing it.”

Previous Winners

2022: The Suffolk
2021: John and Otto Wittmeier
2020: Jerry Dicecco Jr. and Jonathan Perkins
2019: Beth Hanlon
2018: Anthony Meras
2017: Irwin Garsten
2016: PeraBell Food Bar East
2015: Jim and Barbara Cromarty
2014: Riverhead’s craft brewers
2013: April Yakaboski
2012: Richard Stabile
2011: Dennis McDermott and Kayleigh & Tahir Baig
2010: Dee Muma
2009: J. Gordon Huszagh
2008: Ray Pickersgill
2007: Ray Maynard
2006: Jack Van de Wetering
2005: Jeff Hallock and Dr. Frank Arena
2004: Massoud Family
2003: Andrew Mitchell
2002: Christine & Peter Loew, EastEnders Coffee House
2001: Jan Burman
2000: Fred Terry
1999: Jim Bissett, Joseph Petrocelli
1998: Swezey’s Department Store
1997: Pat Frankenbach
1996: Chip Cleary
1995: Ed Merz
1994: Bill Talmage
1993: Joe Fischer
1992: Liz Strebel
1991: Barry Barth
1990: Bobby Goodale
1989: Mike Kent
1988: Stan Hagler