Juan-Elias “Juany” Riesco watched his city explode and his family’s empanada restaurant collapse during the summer of 2020, when riots broke out across the nation in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd. But unlike many of his fellow Chicago small business owners, Riesco, who was 29 at the time, never bent the knee to Black Lives Matter, and never wavered in his faith.
The second son of immigrant parents, Riesco had helped transform his family’s tiny grocery story on the city’s west side into a popular restaurant. Players for the Chicago Bulls were known to frequent Nini’s Deli for its Cuban-Mexican fusion dishes, inspired by Mexico, where Riesco’s mother, Julie, was born, and his father’s homeland of Cuba.
“We would serve them the same exact way we would serve the single mom who lives down the street,” said Riesco, noting Yelp named Nini’s the highest-rated restaurant in the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois. The family’s success led to brand deals with Nike and Adidas, glowing praise from local media outlets, and even made Riesco something of a local celebrity who delivered keynote presentations at Apple Store openings.
The restaurant’s runaway success came to a halt in the summer of 2020, he said, when Nini’s was the “only business that didn’t make Black Lives Matter oriented posts within moments of everything happening.” Riesco told The Daily Wire that he hesitated to immediately endorse the social movement out of concern its tenets did not align with biblical values.
“I definitely needed some time to pray on it,” he said. “I was getting a lot of pressure to make a post about Black Lives Matter and how I stood with George Floyd and stood against the police. And as a born-again Christian, I do not stand against the police. And I also do not stand arbitrarily for any political movement just because people are telling me to.”
Days after other businesses had posted black squares to their social media accounts, Riesco instead shared a statement about the value of all lives, including black lives, because of the reality that “all lives are made in God’s image.” The statement angered local social justice activists, who would eventually drive his family out of business, and even out of the Windy City.
But Riesco had his Christian faith and the hearty stock passed down from his parents to lean on. Riesco’s father, Jose, immigrated to the United States from communist Cuba after serving a five-year prison sentence for helping his neighbors hide their guns from the Castro regime. He later married Riesco’s mother, who had immigrated to the Chicago area from Mexico alongside her parents and siblings, and the couple earned a living through the small grocery store they managed underneath their apartment.
Riesco and his older brother, Jose, learned early on from their father that communism, embraced by openly Marxist Black Lives Matter, was a dead end.
“Even before my family was Christian, I had always operated under the principle of ‘better dead than red,’” he said. “Better to be dead than to be a communist.”
Despite the lessons of their childhood, both Juan and Jose found trouble in their teens. The boys gravitated toward petty crime and running with the wrong crowd. Juan is candid when discussing his past promiscuous homosexuality, which led him to move to San Francisco for a time. But when his parents threatened to stop supporting him unless he moved back home, and after Jose’s profound religious conversion, things changed for both Riesco boys.
Within months, Riesco had, like his older brother, fallen to his knees and surrendered himself to Jesus. He quickly began to utilize biblical principles in every aspect of his life, including the family business.
“I started to apply Christian ethics to our business,” he recalled. “And I believe God honored that because I was seeking Him first, ultimately, and allowing the things that I was learning through the reading of the Bible to influence my workplace. The only reason why we were good servants is because we believe Christ first served us, and so therefore we would gladly and willfully serve our community or whoever came into our business.”
None of that mattered to the mob demanding atonement from Riesco’s family for a killing committed by a Minneapolis police officer who was already under arrest and would later be convicted of murder. The crowd wanted “total submission,” if not in person, then on social media, Riesco recalled.
“Many times the people who have these worldviews are insecure in their spiritual identity,” he said. “We know that the Bible says ‘There is no rest for the wicked.’ We know they will never find that rest they’re searching for, no matter how many likes, retweets, or positive and reaffirming comments that they get.”
Beyond the thousands of negative comments and death threats Riesco received on social media, hundreds of Black Lives Matter supporters protested outside of his business. Riesco, his brother, and other members of their church chose to preach the gospel on the sidewalk outside of the restaurant and attempted to explain the meaning of their social media statement.
However, protesters had overwhelmed police officers tasked with protecting Nini’s and doused the restaurant’s pink wall with black paint. One vandal painted a massive black fist resembling the Black Lives Matter logo onto the restaurant wall. Death threats prompted Riesco, his pregnant wife, and their infant daughter to move to Dallas, where he found work as the family stayed in motels and Airbnb rentals.
“God always made sure we had a room to sleep in, a roof over our heads, food on our table,” he continued. “King David writes, ‘I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken.’ And I really mean that God has never abandoned us, not even for a moment. He’s met our financial needs. He’s met our physical needs. He’s met our spiritual needs. And I’m closer to him than ever.”
Over the next year, Riesco would occasionally hear from people who had heard him preaching outside his restaurant. He said he continues to receive emails from people who once protested his family’s business and have since experienced conversion.
Riesco and his family returned to Chicago and tried to reopen Nini’s. After a year, however, there still wasn’t enough business to pay the bills. Riesco sought work, but said prospective employers always seemed to pass on him after searching his name online and learning of his prior problems with Black Lives Matter, an organization which has since been accused of squandering tens of millions of dollars and doing little to help the cause it claimed to embrace.
Riesco found himself returning to the street evangelism he loved and began ministering to mothers and fathers outside of abortion clinics, which has now become a full-time position for Riesco with a ministry called Love Life.
“Every time I preach the gospel of love and grace to one of these people, I am reminded how I would be exactly in their shoes had Christ not saved me,” he said.
Despite losing his family’s business and struggling to raise his own family over the last few years, Riesco believes he made the right choices. At 31, he hopes to inspire others who might otherwise remain silent in the face of social justice ideology or other contemporary anti-biblical movements.
“My family lost our business, and we lost many family members who now barely talk to us at all,” he said. “My brother lost his job, my sister-in-law lost her job. But I want to say this: God has never failed us. At every corner, he’s met our needs.”