As Roanoke touts immigrant impact, Leonore Restaurant showcases success

Roanoke city leaders explain Welcoming Roanoke initiative

By Tommy Lopez - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - Roanoke leaders announced a new plan Tuesday to make the city more welcoming for immigrants.

Mayor Sherman Lea was among those who spoke at an event at the Williamson Road Branch Library. The plan, called Welcoming Roanoke, is another push to help immigrants feel integrated in the city.

It ties in with Welcome Week, which occurs in September, and events like the storied Local Colors festival that took place just this past weekend.

Roanoke has been a destination for refugees for years. The city wants to make sure everyone feels connected and knows about the resources that are available. 

"We're really excited to begin working on this Welcoming Roanoke plan," city planner Wayne Leftwich said. "We really want to see how the city can be more welcoming to the immigrant and refugee population," city planner Wayne Leftwich said.

The group New American Economy gave Roanoke a grant to help fund the plan. Its leaders spoke Tuesday at the event about the positive impact immigrants have in Roanoke, particularly on the economy.

They found that, in 2017, immigrant households in Roanoke earned more than $300 million and contributed more than $75 million in taxes.

There will be a survey available for residents to give input to the city on steps it can take to improve the environment for immigrants in the Star City. Leaders will work on the plan for the next few months. They hope to have it finalized by the end the year.

A business success story
On Tuesday, 10 News highlighted one local business owner who has thrived since moving to America. He’s someone who didn’t set out to live the American dream but he’s become a great example of it.

Miguel Liendo now runs a successful restaurant in downtown Roanoke -- Leonore. It offers a blend of Venezuelan and Italian food.

Liendo said Roanoke is welcoming to immigrants like him.

“They like to help. They like to share. They like to support, and that’s what I like about this place,” he said.

Born in Venezuela, he came to the U.S. at age 30 when his mother, who lived in Roanoke, got sick. He decided to stay.

He started working in a warehouse, on the floor, loading trailers.

“I didn’t speak any English,” he said, laughing. “And I’m still learning.”

Later, he worked at his sister’s restaurant, Grace's Place Pizzeria in Grandin, and developed his cooking skills.

“I start working for them and I find out that I love cooking,” Liendo said.

He opened Leonore Restaurant in 2012. It was a small space. Business was slow.

Then, with his never-give-up attitude, it picked up and he expanded a few years ago into an adjacent space, nearly quadrupling his seating.

“I don’t think anything is difficult,” Liendo said. “I think that if you have the drive to do it, you’re going to survive. You’re going to succeed. You’re going to jump any obstacles and find whatever you’re looking for.”

He’s now going back to his roots, focusing more on Venezuelan food -- the dishes his mom made for him before she passed away. He plans on changing the restaurant's name and menu soon.

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