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Homeless and addicted restauranteur: ‘I saw hopes and plans God had for me.’

Homeless and addicted restauranteur: 'I saw hopes and plans God had for me.'
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Co-owner/Chef Luis Delgado
Co-owner/Chef Luis Delgado(Roy S. Johnson )
(Roy S. Johnson )

's eyes redden and well up with tears when he talks about the bottom. It's as if he's gone back--back to being homeless on the streets of Birmingham for more than eight months, back to being exiled by his wife because of his addiction to marijuana (yes, marijuana), back to finding sporadic shelter in the homes of friend after friend, in abandoned building after building, beneath bridge after bridge.

"It took me to the depths of the deep," he says, simply.

Circumstances were certainly partly to blame for Delgado's fall more than three years ago.

He was familiar to many as a burgeoning restauranteur, introducing Southern palettes to the unique tastes of his Puerto Rican culture at Miami Cafe (later Miami Cafe XPress), first at a gas station in Alabaster, later a car wash in Hoover, and finally in Pelham until the landlord closed him down, a dispute Delgado says cost him "everything" and ultimately ended up in civil court.

Though that's just one reason he landed at the bottom.

Degaldo was also "not yet humbled," in his words, not by desperate living conditions, not even by being estranged from his two daughters. He even "dressed the part" while hauling his belongings around town in a suitcase, donning work clothes, even though there was no work.

Delgado, too, was a heavy marijuana user, as in smoking it every day for 22 years. He wasn't addicted, though, he kept telling himself, and anyone who'll listen. After all, he heard time after time that you can't become addicted to marijuana, and he believed it.

Samantha, his wife, knew better. She had been to the bottom, too, having herself been addicted to the same drug until undergoing rehab 14 years ago. With two daughters, she refused to allow her husband to smoke around the children, to feign excuses as to why he would not stop smoking, or to bring the depths of the deep into their home.

So, she kicked him out. "It was the hardest thing in the world for her to so," Luis says. "But it was the right thing to do."

At least until he learned what he had denied for decades.

Smoking ahead of all else

"Everybody told me you can't get addicted to marijuana," Luis says now. "But an addiction can be to anything, whatever you put in front of your priorities--like your family. When you do that, you're an addict. I was an addict."

He had been raised Catholic and became a Christian while serving in the military. Yet it was not until December of 2013 that he began to understand the vital purpose of his tumble to the depths of the deep, of being stripped of everything and dragged to the bottom.

It was not until then that he finally grasped--and embraced--the depths of his faith.

"God doesn't want religion; he wants you to have a relationship with Him," Delgado says. "No matter how deep the valley, it you stay faithful to Him, He will get you up. And when you get up, you will see the same God.

"I found that out in the valley. He's a friend that never leaves you."

Delgado emerged from 90 days of rehab at Turning Point in Thornsby, Ala. in January 2014. "It was a turning point," he says. "I found myself again, saw hope and the plans God had for me."

Delgado still battled depression, though, and didn't know for certain if building another restaurant was in those plans. He didn't know if the pain he endured at the bottom would allow him to ever rekindle the passion for cooking that was nurtured in his grandmother's kitchen in Miami.

A personal revival

So instead he focused on rebuilding his life, rebuilding his family and building a ministry designed to help those whom he met at the bottom; 3-in-1 Ministries was created to help the city's homeless and once Delgado set himself on that path.

"Addiction," he says, "is really a separation from God, from the discernment of holy spirit. But if have it He will walk you through. He will open doors that need to open and close doors that need to be closed."

The open door was actually a telephone call from his stepfather in Miami, who had recently retired after working for the same company for nearly three decades.

"Are you willing to open another restaurant?" he asked.

"I still had a deep hurt in my heart," Delgado says. "But I told him I'd pray about it. God said to open one up to give others a second chance. I turned out to be my second chance."

Miami Fusion Cafe
Miami Fusion Cafe

If you live or work downtown you may know by now that Miami Fusion Cafe--Delgado's second chance--is open for breakfast and lunch on Fifth Ave North between 20th and 21st in a building that sat unoccupied for 16 years.

"People said I was crazy to open in a place that had been empty so long," Delgado says. "But with all the expansion [downtown], nothing is cheap. We aren't millionaires. We're a family that came to Birmingham ten years ago and couldn't afford much.

"Once the landlord called me back, I told him all I had was a vision, a foundation and people who would follow us. I was willing to do the labor myself."

Indeed, Delgado, along with family and friends handled their own demolition and worked through the nine months of construction without a general contractor. The restaurant's front door, Delgado says, he built himself. "And I'm no carpenter," he says with a laugh.

He also says 60% of the construction was done by people he met while living on the streets.

Miami Fusion Cafe's revival

Last December, Delgado served 300 homeless citizens on one occasion and, two weeks later, 160 working class families who were only asked to bring gifts for homeless children. They brought enough gifts for 53 children.

"The ministry," he says, "is the restaurant."

Back in style

Just recently, Delgado, wearing his signature brim and chef's smock, sat in one of the booths, stood to greet customers with a big, toothy grin, burst in and out of the kitchen, all in what seemed like a matter of moments. He and Samantha now have six children, including a daughter not yet three weeks old.

His business partner is his stepfather; he and Delgado's mother sold their belongings and moved to Birmingham.

Sushi rolls at Miami Fusion Cafe
Sushi rolls at Miami Fusion Cafe

His brother-in-law, Juan Bares, is the sous-chef and the architect of the sushi rolls Delgado calls CariMaki, a fusion of Caribbean and Asian foods that contain no fish because, well, Bares is allergic to fish. But the rolls were his idea and he, too, moved from Miami is be part of Miami Fusion Cafe.

"God blessed me with a great location, great landlord and great partner," Delgado says. "I have four times what I lost. But the riches of this world are not money. They're relationships. I've seen money come and go, but I've learned the people in your life, the relationships, are built on so much more."

He now knows he had to sink to the bottom, and endure the pain that still lingers within him, in order to enjoy this day.

"You have to hit the bottom to go to the top," he says, "no matter how deep the bottom is."

Ten percent of proceeds from the sale of Miami Fusion Cafe's Jesus Cake are donated to local youth programs in partnership with the Fountain Heights Recreational Center.

Watch sous-chef Juan Bares prepare a Domi sushi roll:

Miami Fusion Cafe sous-chef Juan Bares

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