Lauren Fernandez identifies as a Latina, Cuban American, an attorney, investor and restaurant operator. She grew up in Florida and bought a home in Atlanta, where she currently lives. She is founder of The Fernandez Company, and CEO and founder of Full Course, a restaurant development and investment firm that incubates and accelerates emerging fast casual restaurant brands. She was the developer, owner, and operator of 11 Chicken Salad Chick franchise restaurants.
Sergio: Please describe your childhood home?
Lauren Fernandez: I lived in a beautiful home in Bradenton, Florida with my mom, dad and three siblings. The house was a really lovely shade of peach with white trim, a Florida style with Frank Lloyd Wright design. Very clean lines. It was the home that my parents wanted to build for our big old family. It was full of light and it opened to a lanai porch area. It was shaped like a U with glass windows everywhere facing a swimming pool in the middle and a large backyard. It was an open floor plan and you could hear from one side of the house to the other side of the house. It was all tile because my mom wanted it to be easy to clean. It was big enough for us and that was something that we had waited to afford and that is the house I will always call home.
Sergio: When did you begin to fantasize about prosperity and did you tie your vision to an image of a home?
Lauren Fernandez: I have deeply always had a need for a place. I think that ties back directly to being a Cuban American and not being able to visit Cuba. I have the understanding that my father and his family were displaced and we moved around a lot for his career, so it took 18 tries before we found home. For me, that was not just a connection to home ownership and prosperity but really a need to have a place and to set down roots. We needed to have roots over having prosperity. Ultimately, when we did put down roots and my father had arrived at a successful career and it reflected our values and our aesthetic, it did become a sign of prosperity.
Sergio: What inspired your fantasy?
Lauren Fernandez: My father was born on a ranch in south Cuba. He has this fantasy of being on a horse riding towards a cabin where he can invite all of his family to gather together. For me, I can’t unshake the generational burden of that level of displacement even if I, personally, cannot go to Cuba. I need a physical place for our family to celebrate our culture. Culture, identity and place, plus the feeling that gets passed down generationally … when that’s been ripped away from you, your home has been taken from you, your finances have been stripped bare, everything of financial value got taken from you and you get put in a place where you become an “other” and you don’t speak the language, I think all of that passes generationally onto me and now I take deep pride and put a pin on this place of this is where I am. Essentially, it is trauma. I put emphasis on the place where I celebrate my culture.
Sergio: What does your home look like present-day?
Lauren Fernandez: When I became financially independent as a single woman in my mid-thirties, I purchased the home that I would one day need for my future family. When I married my boyfriend, I knew that I would have a step-daughter and that we would later add more children, which we did. I wanted it to be large enough to be comfortable for all of us and our visitors and my extended family. My dad would have an area for when he visits with my step-mom. A big kitchen for when we celebrate. I also wanted the same type of light that my parents lovingly made for us in our childhood home. That’s the common factor. Our home opens up to a beautiful ravine. There are animals on our property and we see them everyday. They eat my vegetables, even the scorpion peppers. I feel so blessed for being able to have this home.
Sergio: Is there a connection between your former fantasy and your current reality?
Lauren Fernandez: I had a beautiful townhome in mid-city Atlanta when I was living my best single girl life but that was not the home that I wanted for when I had a family, so I purposely made very practical decisions. The lesson I learned there is that the value is not in the zip code or address, I don’t live in the posh neighborhood like some of my friends do. I put my family first. I am grateful that my home can now be the place where my parents and siblings can establish the roots we once had in our childhood home. I make no apologies for the size of our home but both my husband and I work here, we play here, we have visitors here. We needed to feel safe here and I began to understand that this need for safety came from the fact that all of our real estate in Cuba was stripped from us. When I went to buy this home, my primary objective was to have autonomy of place when you buy property. I needed that physical piece of land that could not be taken from me. I prioritized this because of my immigration story.
Sergio: Do you still identify as an attorney?
Lauren Fernandez: Yes, the key to success in our family was education. It was expected that me and my siblings were not only going to go to a great college, preferably on scholarship, but also graduate school as well. You need at least one post graduate degree in our family. My family was very clear about what the expectations were. One of the major reasons that I chose the law was because it carried respect inside and outside the family. It requires so much of you. I have two post graduate degrees. The hard part for me was when I decided that I wasn’t going to practice law any more. I remember when I told my father that my role as Corporate General Counsel was ending and that I had checked the boxes and that I saw the generational wealth that was being created in entrepreneurship and that I was making the jump. I wanted to do it for myself.
I don’t think that my father imagined his daughter in a Chicken Salad Chick polo shirt with a name tag running 11 franchise restaurant. I remember the moment when I told him that I paid a quarter of a million dollars of my student debt, not because of my law degree but because I was an entrepreneur and an investor in franchises…It still makes me so emotional. I had so much connected to my pride in dad introducing me as his daughter, the attorney. Instant street cred. I used to not be able to admit that I cleaned the floors of my restaurants. I was humbled. It was like my third degree. Working as a restaurant operator was a profound experience for me. I am not ashamed of that any longer. I take pride in the fact that I cleaned the floors of my restaurants.
Sergio: Did you ever see an example in the mainstream of who you wanted to be?
Lauren Fernandez: Yes, Diane Keaton in a film called, Baby Boom. I saw Baby Boom at a really critical point in my life. I was 8 years old. The protagonist is a corporate badass and her distant cousin dies and she leaves her with a toddler. So, after a few failures at trying to be both a professional and a new “mother,” she moves to a 62-acre apple farm in Vermont. She has to take this radical jump from her corporate world to a farm, and hilarity ensues. There’s this moment at the end of the film where she figures it all out and she’s with the baby and she’s crushing it with the farm and she turns it into an organic, super-rad baby food company and she tells The Man to f_ck off and she’s a total boss. I saw it in a dollar theater. I love that movie.
I gravitate to really strong female protagonists, without them having to necessarily be Latinas. I read books and I take my inspiration from where I could. My Anglo mom was a total OG 100%. My Cuban grandmother, wow! The grit, determination, the quiet grace of that woman. What a fricken’ rock star! So much of my family’s immigration story was so baller and the reward that followed was realized by all the women in the family and their amazing characteristics. I wanted to be like them: To have grit, determination and grace.