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Pepe Stepensky: In the Spotlight

July 12, 2018

By Mario A. Cortez

Pepe Stepensky

From his youth, local thespian and businessman Pepe Stepensky has felt a drive to be creative, which has lead him to succeed on and off the stage.

Stepensky, whose grandparents fled to Mexico from East Europe to escape the first World War, was born in Mexico City. He shared that during his college days he was already engaging in street performances and letting his imagination fly.

“I studied a bachelor’s in communication and we forayed into doing street theatre performances, which really appealed to me,” Stepensky said to La Prensa San Diego.

He would take to the world of urban theatre with his pantomime group, which at the time was the largest mime troupe in all of Mexico.

“There were 32 mimes working at the same time,” he recalled. “We would start making noise with tambourines and drums, we painted an imaginary line and started doing pantomime routines about monsters and dinosaurs and we’d involve people.”

After marrying his wife Deborah in 1986, the couple arrived in San Diego to make a life north of the border. When he arrived, Stepensky became involved in running a dry cleaners and worked at a bakery with his brother, never setting aside his creative pursuits.

After some business partners returned to Mexico – and a lot of networking, some coincidences in timing, and a simultaneous exchange of assets involving the dry cleaniners – the couple became the owners of the San Diego Burger Company, an eatery in Seaport Village.

It was then when he saw that running a restaurant was something that stimulated him creatively.

“Restaurants are some of the most creative businesses out there because you have to craft a menu, and you see immediate results. Creating the interior is also like putting on a play because you get a room with nothing and you have to install plumbing, kitchen equipment, and think about how the walls will be painted and how the dining room will be decorated and how to carry out the concept; it is very creative,” Stepensky explained.

Since then, the Stepenskys have become owners of two other restaurant brands, Margarita’s Kitchen and Cantina, a Mexican food concept geared toward tourists at Seaport Village, and Porkyland, a fast casual concept offering authentic, homestyle Mexican cuisine with two locations in the Carmel Valley area.

Stepensky says that while he is more focused on the conceptual and managerial side of business, his wife is the one who really knows how to run the kitchen and operational sides of these.

“She is super smart, knows how to do the numbers and everything else; it has been a good partnership,” he shared.

Although running these eateries requires a lot of time and attention, this doesn’t stop Stepensky from working on his artistic endeavors.

Stepensky has directed award-winning documentaries. His films “The Land of Milk and Honey,” which follows a famous israeli singer, and “One More Time,” which tells the story of local sports anchor Humberto Gurmilan, have won Emmy awards. His documentary “A Jew in Caborca,” a tribute to Polish immigrant to Mexico Juan Chait, received an Emmy nomination.

In the world of theater, Stepensky has written and directed over 30 plays. He is also the cofounder of Teatro Punto y Coma, which has joined local Latino and Jewish talent on stage for more than 30 years now. This theater group has earned local accolades as well as international recognition, making a full sweep of awards at Mexico City’s Habina Theater Festival for their rendition of “La Mudanza” by Vicente Leñero.

Today, work on his lifelong passion hasn’t slowed down for the Mexico City-born creative. Alongside local playwright Salomon Maya, Stepensky works on the script for “The Mudanza,” a bilingual play based on Leñero’s script which Teatro Punto y Coma plans to premiere in 2019. He is also developing a film project based on a videotape showing his father’s final hours.

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