Felipe Henriquez uses his hands six days a week to make pizzas with fresh-made tomato sauce and forms homemade meatballs for pasta dishes and sandwiches to serve at his Henriquez Pizza restaurants in Davidson County. His second location opened June 3 in Denton.
But it wasn’t too long ago that the 32 year-old El Salvador native was using his hands when his age still reflected only a single digit to build homes and buildings alongside his father in his native country. He lived with his parents in a home with no running water or electricity, walking to a river at 5 in the morning to bathe and bring home water for his mother.
“I had a job in my country, but I wanted to do a little bit better,” he said, ” so I came here.”
At age 14, Henriquez started his walk alone from El Salvador through Guatemala and Mexico, eventually crossing over into the United States and coming to North Carolina where a brother lived. He had no parents with him, did not speak English, was here illegally and had little formal education. Still, he was thankful to God, he said, to now have an opportunity for a better job and future.
Living with 12 other people in a two-bedroom apartment near Thomasville, Henriquez got a job working at a Thomasvlle pizza restaurant, telling the owner he was 18 instead of his actual age. He never attended one day of school in the United States but stayed determined to become a legal citizen and business owner. He did it all with the help of God, he said.
Recalling the years of holidays spent alone with no family in the United States still brings him to tears.
“Christmas and the holidays were so hard,” he said. “I missed them.”
Now a father of two, he has accomplished his goals with more goals in the works. He became a legal U.S. citizen in 2019, which involved him having to go back to El Salvador in 2015. He had to file paperwork to get his green card and gain entrance legally into the United States That took less than two months. He learned English and now owns not only two Henriquez Pizza locations in Thomasville and Denton, but also a car wash business — N&A Hand Car Wash — on South Main Street in Lexington. One of his proudest achievements, he said, was becoming a U.S. citizen in 2019.
“Everything that happened to me was the hand of God,” said Henriquez.
Being without family, living with strangers in crowded conditions that weren’t always the best environment for a young teenager were just some of the hardships, Henriquez overcame.
“As soon as I could, I moved out of that apartment and got my own,” he said. “Some people do not have hope, and they drink a lot. I did not want to be around that.”
Henriquez learned the ropes of making Italian food while working at Elizabeth’s Pizza in Thomasville. His first attempt at opening his own Italian restaurant — Italian Delight — in Thomasville did not last. He said he could not get things right with the business because he could not have his name on any of the business’s paperwork since he was not a U.S. citizen then.
“I came here with just the goal to make money and build a home in my country (El Salvador),” he said. “I did that. I sent money home to my father and he bought the supplies and built it. But then I wanted more. I want my own business.”
Henriquez said he wanted to be different from other Italian restaurants by making his own sauces and other foods for a unique flavor. He even makes his own ranch dressing for dipping with wings and hand-cut potato chips.
“When you order, it takes a little longer,” he said. “We make everything fresh. We don’t have a lot of stuff already made up.”
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He employs eight people at the new Denton location, and is looking to hire more. Henriquez Pizza is open from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Henriquez sets aside Sunday for worship at House of King Church in Thomasville and for his wife, Rosibel, and their two children. The restaurant has a drive-thru to pick up call ahead orders. Henriquez may add delivery later. The dining room can seat about 60 people.
“I want to go where God leads me,” he said. ” I want to open more Henriquez Pizzas. I am working to possibly add breakfast to the menu. It would be traditional American and some Spanish items.”
The menu includes 19 toppings choices for pizzas, including chorizo, a pork sausage common in Spanish cooking, stromboli, calzone, pasta entrees, subs, wraps, cheeseburgers, quesadillas and appetizers.
Henriquez also uses his business to help others in need in the community. He takes pizza and other meals to the homeless living in tents and other places other than a homeless shelter once a month.
The southern Davidson County community has come out to support Henriquez Pizza the owner said and is grateful.
“I want to thank the whole community,” he said. I posted on Wednesday that we would open on Thursday. We were so busy. When I went to turn on the open sign, people were waiting already to come in.”
– Jill Doss-Raines is The Dispatch trending topics and personality profiles senior reporter and is always looking for tips about businesses and entertainment events, secret and new menu items, and interesting people in Davidson County. Contact me at [email protected] and subscribe to us at the-dispatch.com.