Rene Benitez finishes sweeping the floor, clocks out and grabs his backpack. It’s 10 o’clock in the evening; he’s been working 12 hours straight.
A 12-hour workday is strenuous for most, but for Benitez, it’s a breeze compared to the 18-hour workdays he was used to as a teenager.
“I would be up at 4 in the morning, helping my mom setup for the day,” Benitez said. “Then I would take the bus to school and after school, go straight to my mom’s cart and take over for her until 10, sometimes later.
Benitez grew up in Echo Park, the son of Mexican immigrants. His family had little income, so Benitez had to work and help support his parents, who worked two jobs themselves.
Benitez’s father worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant by day and as a janitor by night. His mother ran a hot dog cart during the day and would babysit in the evening. When Benitez was done with the school for the day, he would go take over the cart for his mother.
“Some of these people you see on the street are crazy,” Benitez said jokingly. “I was nervous at first, but the longer I was out there, the less nervous I got.”
Since money was always an issue, Benitez was unable to attend college, opting to work full-time after graduating high school. He now works as a waiter and a busboy at a small family owned coffee shop in the San Fernando Valley.
The skills Benitez learned as a teen are helping him tremendously now. His ability to sell and interact with people has helped him become an exceptional server.
“I have so many regular customers who always want to sit with me,” Benitez said. “I like to talk to my customers and really get to know them on a personal level.”
Benitez, now in his mid-30s, is married and has two daughters. To him, the most important thing is building a better childhood for his children than the one he had.
“I want my girls to go to school, go to college, not have to worry about money,” Benitez said. “I want them to understand the importance of money, but I’m working my butt off now so they don’t have to in the future.”