It’s now been 39 years since the three sentences were spoken that set up the rest of Jorge Fierro’s life.

Jorge: “I’m done with my studies at law school; I’m not going back.”

Alfredo (Jorge’s father): “Well, now that you don’t have a place to live, what are you going to do?”

Jorge: “I’m going to go to America.”

The year was 1985, the place was Chihuahua, Mexico, and the situation was Jorge, at 24, deciding it was time he summoned up his courage and told his father he didn’t want to be what he wanted him to be.

Jorge was partway through his studies at the law school in Chihuahua, long enough to know he didn’t want to be a lawyer. His dream was to be a businessman, like his father, who owned a supermarket and ran several side businesses.

“But they wanted a lawyer in the family,” says Jorge with a what-are-you-going-to-do shrug.

But that’s getting ahead of our story. First, Jorge needed to get to America.

This was 1985, not 2024, so times were simpler. After he hitched a ride to the border at Juarez, when the immigration guard asked him his reason for coming to the United States, Jorge said the two words in English he’d memorized and had been practicing the entire day: “American citizen.”

The guard waved him through.

“If they’d asked anything else,” says Jorge, “if they’d asked what high school I’d gone to, they’d have just said to me, ‘Go back home.’”

But they didn’t and 24-year-old Jorge turned north and began breathing American air in El Paso.

“If you want to be precise, I guess I was breaking this land’s laws,” he acknowledges, remembering back to how he got here. “But there’s nothing illegal about seeking a better life.”

He heard there was work in the oil wells in Texas so he went there, only to discover the rumors weren’t true. Next he went to Wyoming, where he also heard there was work in the oil wells. He struck out there too. But some Basque sheep farmers needed a sheepherder, so he spent the summer herding sheep in the mountains outside Rawlins.

Jorge knew he needed to learn English to have a chance in this country (the Basques spoke Spanish, but most everyone else did not), so when he heard about a top-rated ESL program in Salt Lake City, he “gave a guy $40 for gas” and got dropped off at Pioneer Park, the city’s gateway for the disenfranchised.

In the next five years, Jorge proceeded to give a clinic in the importance of recognizing and capitalizing on opportunities. He took and passed the six-month ESL course. He found employment through a temporary services agency ($24.75 for a day’s work, no matter what it was). Thanks to a friendly Catholic priest, he found an inexpensive place to stay in the Fisher Mansion on the west side that had been turned into a rehab residence for drug and alcohol addicts. (For $225 a month, he slept in an 18-bunk room alongside Vietnam vets thrashing and moaning in their sleep.)

It was all a calculated means to an end. By 1990, Jorge was married (which made him an actual American citizen), living in his own apartment and starting a job with Intermountain Health in its warehouse.

The job was secure, safe, with a pension awaiting him decades down the road.

But he hadn’t come to America to play it safe and plan for retirement, he had come to America to be an entrepreneur, like his father.

In 1997, seven years into his career at Intermountain, he decided to take a leap. For years, he’d been frustrated by the lack of quality beans and other Mexican food products at the supermarket. The beans were full of preservatives and additives, nothing like the beans of his youth.

He began buying fresh pinto beans from Idaho farmers, cooking them at home and selling them at the downtown farmers market (held, poetically, at Pioneer Park). He sold a bag or two the first week, then added Mexican food recipes to the packages and was soon up to 30 bags a week.

He quit his day job, added a creamy salsa to his lineup (the first of many new products) and after he heard someone compliment his beans with the phrase “ay que rico,” meaning “oh how tasty,” he named his burgeoning business Rico.

“Rico was short, easy for Americans to say,” says Jorge, “and it means rich.”

If all this rings any bells, it’s because in the years since, in addition to the downtown farmers market, the Rico brand — beans, tortillas, salsa, burritos, et al., all handmade, with no additives and preservatives — has become a fixture in Harmons, Smith’s, Whole Foods and other local supermarkets.

And now, with the addition of a new hyperbaric freezing machine that will help the cooked beans last much longer, Jorge has an eye on expanding to other areas of the country.

At 62, he has no designs on slowing down. Not in the land of opportunity. “There are opportunities all over the place,” he says. “You will live the American dream if you see the opportunities and work hard. You get to do something you like for the rest of your life, and then you make a buck out of it, that’s even better!”