There was a time, around 2003, when Juan Carlos Castilla was a homeless undocumented immigrant who found his meals in the dumpster outside a Fort Myers Burger King.
Today, he’s the owner of a Naples roofing company that employs 57 people and closed 2014 with around $4 million in sales.
“I remember in 2007 when I just started the company, it was just myself. The only food I could afford was just crackers and those instant soups,” he says.
Castilla Roofing was a one-man operation when he started it that year —the same moment everybody else in the housing industry “was going out of business every day.”
Castilla was born in Peru and, after graduating from Lima’s Catholic university with a degree in economics, he wanted to study to become a diplomat. But the cost of tuition barred his entry, and, like so many others with ambitions greater than their earning potential in Latin America, he came to the United States in 2002.
He worked odd jobs and saved his earnings. Then someone broke into his apartment and stole his passport and all his money. After that he was on the streets, living in the seedier parts of Fort Myers, bathing at public libraries and picking through trash for Whoppers that didn’t sell.
What he needed was a job, and it came. “I found this guy, an American guy, who pretty much picked me up from the street and said, ‘You want to work, come with me.’” He worked as a roofer and rose through the company. He got an apartment and a car and earned $400 per week. Then he went off on his own to start his own company.
He’d drive around looking for broken roof tiles, then knock on the homeowners’ door and confess he needed to borrow some tools if they hired him. Sometimes they welcomed him. Sometimes they ordered him off their property.
Little by little, and then very quickly, the company grew, and he obtained his American citizenship. “I’ve been really lucky, to be honest,” he says.