USC Cinematic Arts

Born in La Paz, Baja California, and raised in both Tijuana and San Diego, Luis Peña may not have realized that his early experience working at a Tijuana sushi restaurant as a seventeen-year-old would lead to a life-long culinary career. There he prepped chicken, cut veggies, cooked rice, made deliveries and eventually, learned to make sushi. Initially, Peña studied International Business and Foreign Trade and intended to work as a bank teller. But after years of working part-time in restaurants, Peña decided it was best to learn more about the industry he enjoyed so much, and he enrolled in the Culinary Arts and Management program at San Diego’s Mesa College. During this time, he also worked at a call center in Tijuana and became a supervisor at just 21-years-old. After three years developing his managerial skills at the call center, Peña made the decision to open his own restaurant in Tijuana. In 2007, it was the struggling economy and a family connection that led Peña to streamline his efforts as a restaurant operator. Peña’s suegro (father-in-law), Juan Jose Plascencia, invited him to work at Romesco Mexiterranean Bistro with his brother-in-law, Chef Javier Plascencia. Peña was initially tasked with improving overall business strategies including advancing customer service and marketing efforts. He also restructured the menu by adding tapas. After a couple of years, Peña’s suegro offered him a deal he couldn’t refuse and he became the co-owner of Romesco. In 2014, after several years of casually talking about opening a new restaurant, Peña and Chef Javier finally made the move to create and open a fresh new concept that San Diego needed. After some thinking—and drinking—the Bracero "Cocina de Raiz" concept was born. Peña resides in Tijuana with his wife and children. When he isn’t at Romesco or Bracero, he can be found spending time with his family, eating Mexican street food or playing the bass in a Latin jazz band called Bulevar Descarga. He also keeps up with current news and trends in music, travel, and health as it relates to the food industry.