About Santiago’s Bodega
The idea for Santiago’s Bodega was born out of a childhood dream and a quest for adventure.
Founder and Operator Jason Dugan knew he wanted to open a restaurant from an early age. His idea was to create an atmosphere where a welcoming staff would host a giant party each evening. Jason believed that a tapas-style dining experience could only compliment this vision, and would give guests the opportunity to taste a wide variety of dishes.
Inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, in which the main character, Santiago, closely links his life’s work as a fisherman with his own core values, Jason set out to turn this dream into a reality. Continuing with the Hemingway theme, Key West, Florida seemed as good a place as any to begin this adventure. In 2004, armed with love and support from family and friends, and equipped with a trailer crammed to the brink of explosion, Jason traded Kansas City for the Southernmost City of the Continental USA.
Two years of hectic hurricane seasons and the usual difficulties in opening a restaurant threatened to shut down the dream before it had a chance to get off the ground. But, like Santiago, the team persevered, and Jason’s vision flourished.
Now, over a decade later, Santiago’s Bodega is the embodiment of Jason’s dream: a welcoming neighborhood restaurant where you can enjoy great food with family and friends who turn into family.
Please take a moment to look around you and note the love and dedication that goes into creating each Bodega. Creative Director, artist Robert Henry Thompson, is responsible for not only the remarkable artwork, but also for the look and feel that so acutely defines Santiago’s Bodega. Under Robert’s leadership, the tables and bar have been built using reclaimed wood, the stained-glass doors have been uniquely pieced together, and the floors have been hand-laid. Even the outdoor signs are handcrafted, built by family out of wood harvested from an old barn at Jason’s childhood home. As with his food, Jason believes that building each restaurant from scratch provides a quality not attainable with ordering preassembled product.
Stained glass and extraordinary flooring may help set a tone, but the staff at Santiago’s Bodega is, without a doubt, the number one reason for success. These team members are here to welcome you to our house, and to throw the best party each and every evening. Thank you for enjoying our neighborhood restaurant. The entire team wishes you good health and great food.
Thank you for sharing.
What is Bodega Life? It is approaching every day as a new adventure. It is ordering all the appetizers off a menu and making every dinner tapas-style.” It is hanging out with teammates on your days off. It is making friendships with both co-workers and patrons that last a lifetime. It is traveling to a different Santiago’s locations for lunch, even though they serve the same food at your location.
Bodega Life is having somewhere to belong, no matter what color your hair, how many tattoos you have, or who you love. Bodega Life is being one of the Santiago’s Bodega family.
Without a doubt, the team at Santiago’s Bodega is the backbone to our success. These team members are here to welcome you to our house, and to throw the best party for you each and every evening. Please take a moment to read through some of their stories below.
Key Members of Our Team
Owner – Santiago’s Bodega
Owner and Operator Jason Dugan was born and raised in Kansas. An entrepreneur from a young age, his parents knew it was only a matter of time before his ideas took him far. As it turns out, Florida is not really that far from Kansas. But it was in the Sunshine State where, in 2004, Jason first opened the doors of his dream restaurant, Santiago’s Bodega. Jason brought over ten years of hospitality experience with him when he arrived in Florida, and not much else. Using ingenuity and approaching every problem as an opportunity, Jason turned his restaurant concept into the Santiago’s Bodega you know and love today. When not at the Bodega, Jason enjoys watching his son play baseball, creating larger-than-life bonfires, and dabbling in small-scale farming.
Jeffrey Cambridge Jr.
Executive Chef, Santiago’s Bodega Key West
Chef Jeff Cambridge hails from the small town of Port Matilda, Pennsylvania. Santiago’s Bodega was the very first stop he made on his very first vacation to Key West. The lure of the Saganaki and Avocado & Pear salad proved too strong to resist, and Chef Jeff proudly joined the team when he relocated to the island years later. Jeff brings with him a culinary certification from CPI, over fifteen years of restaurant experience, and some pretty wicked knife skills. When not reorganizing his fabulously spacious walk-in cooler, Chef Jeff enjoys spending time out on the water and trying out new restaurants around town.
General Manager, Santiago’s Bodega Key West
Tolibjon Karimov was born in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, and moved to Key West in 2008 with his family. Tolib is a graduate of Key West High School, where his favorite subjects were history and algebra. Tolib joined the Santiago’s Bodega Key West team in 2008, when his first employment contract was sealed with a fist-bump. Having worked nearly every position in the restaurant since that time, Tolib is now General Manager at our restaurant in Key West. Tolib is a celebrated two-time Top Tapa Award Winner, winning first in 2011 and again in 2015. He is very close with his family, and spends as much time as possible with his beautiful wife, parents, nieces, and nephews.
Executive Chef, Santiago’s Bodega Altamonte Springs
Chef Chris Eldred is a native of Orlando, Florida and brings over fifteen years of professional chef experience to his kitchen at Santiago’s Bodega Altamonte Springs. Chris joined the Bodega team in Orlando in 2014, and moved to the Altamonte Springs location in 2015. Chris holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Culinary Management from Le Cordon Bleu School for the Culinary Arts, and is a member of the American Culinary Federation. He also held a major role in a second-grade play. Chef Chris loves Japanese and Southeast Asian Cuisine, and fancies himself a Ramen Noodle Aficionado. When not orchestrating a stellar tapas experience from his huge kitchen at Santiago’s Bodega Altamonte Springs, Chris spends as much time as possible with his beautiful wife and his six children.
General Manager, Santiago’s Bodega Altamonte Springs
Vanessa Valdes first joined the Bodega team in 2015 as a manager in the Orlando location. In 2018, Vanessa packed her bags and headed to Altamonte Springs to take the helm as General Manager. Vanessa has a Bachelors of Science and a plethora of restaurant certifications to compliment her cheerful approach to leading her team. Sorted into Slytherin House, Vanessa should be the first person you call with Harry Potter-related trivia questions. Seriously, put her on speed-dial. Vanessa’s favorite quality of being part of the Bodega family is the spirit of camaraderie among the staff that inevitably spreads to the guests. And the saganaki. When not greeting guests at the Bodega, Vanessa enjoys gardening and dining out with her husband.
Executive Chef, Santiago’s Bodega Orlando
Chef Naomi Freeman is a Florida native who spent her early years on Amelia Island. She served in the US Army after high school, then graduated Summa Cum Laude from Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in 2004. Chef Naomi joined Santiago’s Bodega Orlando in 2015, and was named Executive Chef in 2019. Naomi brings with her a lifetime of restaurant experience, starting with her very first job at age 15 when Naomi’s mom hired her as a Dishwasher. Chef Naomi’s favorite kitchen appliance is her Kitchenaid Mixer – although a cooler comes in a close second – and her favorite Bodega tapa is “everything on the left and right sides of the menu.” When not cooking up great specials in Orlando, Chef Naomi enjoys gardening, collecting tattoos, and spending time with her beautiful wife.
General Manager, Santiago’s Bodega Orlando
Andy Tuttle was born and raised in the rolling hills of the bluegrass state of Kentucky. Andy had several years of high-volume restaurant experience under his belt before starting with the Santiago’s Bodega family in Key West back in 2012. In 2015, Andy received “the call” to move to Orlando and serve as the General Manager of Santiago’s Bodega Orlando, which he happily calls home to this day. Drawing strength from his epic beard, Andy successfully navigates Happy Hours, Brunches, and everything else thrown in his path. His karaoke rendition of “Gin and Juice” is the stuff of legend. When not at the Bodega, Andy enjoys competitive canoeing and making salads at home with his beautiful wife.
JOIN THE TEAM
Think the Bodega Life is for you? We are always looking to grow our team! Download our application and stop in at a Santiago’s location to speak with a manager.
Please contact a Santiago’s Bodega location directly for a paper copy of this application.