Meet Jean Pierre: Wegmans Sous Chef and Hardworking Father of Three
When Jean Pierre Solenyanu moved to Rochester, New York, from West Africa in September 2003, he left behind a wife and a young daughter. Looking for a chance at a better life for his family and himself, he applied for a Visa program in 2002 and was one of about 30,000 people worldwide chosen.
“Part of the program says you have to have a place to live, I happened to know someone who lived in Rochester,” said Jean Pierre. “When I moved here, it was my first time in Rochester, and I barely spoke the language.”
Within two months, Jean Pierre found a job at Wegmans working overnights at our Pittsford location. As a contingency of his employment, he was encouraged to learn English. He spent his days working full-time and studying the language at a local literacy school.
“I had a college degree when I came here, but I was cleaning the floors. I knew I didn’t want to do that forever, so I did a good job learning the language; that was the key for my success,” said Jean Pierre. “I went to the literacy school for two years, and I spent hours reading and watching TV to learn English. I was surrounded by people who spoke English all the time, so I had lots of opportunities to practice.”
Determined to save up enough money to reunite with his family, Jean Pierre took on additional jobs, working seven days a week. As opportunities became available at Wegmans, he moved from overnight floor crew to the kitchen, chopping vegetables and creating recipes for our hot and cold bars. In 2010, he was promoted to a cook at our East Avenue store, and in 2016, he completed Wegmans Culinary Management Trainee (CMT) program, a two-year in-depth culinary and leadership training for aspiring chefs.
“I have a unique work ethic based on my life experience. I’m highly ambitious and I have a passion for what I do,” said Jean Pierre. “Where I came from, every child has to learn how to cook, so I’ve been cooking since I was a little child. The CMT program was tough, but I liked it. I learned a lot.”
After completing the program, Jean Pierre was promoted to sous chef, and moved between stores in the Rochester area. He currently works as sous chef at Holt Rd., where he oversees daily operations on the culinary side of the store, managing a staff of more than 40, including employees in pizza, subs, coffee, sushi, and the kitchen.
“Each day, I check in with everyone, look at orders and sales to see where we may have missed opportunities, monitor food safety and merchandising, and I help out wherever it is needed,” said Jean Pierre.
After seven long years, Jean Pierre ’s family, which had grown to include two additional children, came to the United States to live with him in 2010.
“I was able to go home to visit my wife a few times over the years,” said Jean Pierre. “When my family came to Rochester, Wegmans provided so much support.”
Fast-forward 12 years, and Jean Pierre ’s three kids are now Wegmans employees too. His oldest daughter, Bakhita, is a student at Geneseo College, and works at the Penfield store on her school breaks. His youngest daughter, Gracia, is about to graduate from high school with plans to go to college in the fall. Both girls are Wegmans Employee Scholarship winners. Jean Pierre’s son, Jean Paul, is also a cashier at the Penfield store.
Despite their busy schedules, the family gathers each Saturday for a family meal. They enjoy traditional American meals, as well as comfort foods from home including Fufu, rice served with peanut stew, beans, and lots of homemade salad, using homegrown ingredients when the season permits.
“We have a little garden behind the house; I like to show the kids how to grow vegetables,” said Jean Pierre. “We like to go out and harvest from the garden – it’s all so fresh and tastes so good.”
While the transition to a new life wasn’t always easy, Jean Pierre is grateful for the help he’s received along the way.
“I wouldn’t be where I am now without Wegmans – I’ve had so much support over the years,” said Jean Pierre. “Without a steady job, I couldn’t have done it all. There were so many opportunities to grow. I managed to go from a low language speaker to a department manager.”