A 15 year old, a steakhouse and a relationship no one expected

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – At 15 years old, Jackson Sanson was tired of seeing his mother struggle. He decided to get on his bicycle and search for a job to help at home.

Without knowing that he was approaching the owner of Tropical Acres Steakhouse, Jack Studiale, a caring restauranteur in Fort Lauderdale, Jackson asked for help.

“The young man comes up riding his bike, approaches me,” Studiale said adding then Jackson asked him if he knew who he needed to see to apply for a job.

Studiale knew Jackson was young, so he asked him for his age, and when he learned he was just 15, he told him he needed to be 16 years old to be hired. Jackson didn’t give up. He said it weighed on him that his mother was breaking her back cleaning hotel rooms.

“Seeing my mom work that hard, I had to do my part and try to help out,” Jackson said about why he put his sights on a goal that for a moment seemed impossible: A job at the Tropical Acres Steakhouse on Griffin Road.

On his birthday, Jackson decided to get back on his bicycle and go back to the steakhouse. He was ready to ask the same question, and when he learned that the restaurant’s owner was in his office, he was quick to rush in.

“He walks into the office and he says, ‘Do you remember me?’ I said, ‘Of course! I do,’” Studiale said. “I was so taken by him, I said, ‘I told you, you had to be 16.’ And he said, ‘Today is my birthday!’ I said, ‘Congratulations, you have a job!”

That was over two decades ago and they both still remember how they met. Mr. Jackson Sanson is 40 years old and he still works for Studiale, who has come to know him as disciplined, focused, and a reliable hard worker with a good heart.

“I always tell people, I graduated from the University of Tropical Acres because it was a life experience from the time I was 16,” Sanson said. “I learned a lot.. and I am still here, and it has been amazing.”

There isn’t a job at Tropical Acres that Sanson hasn’t done, and Studiale has watched him excel at all of them. Sanson has worked as a busboy, a cook, and a server. Studiale has trusted him with roof repairs — and even plumbing work.

“This is my life. I love being here, and I love what I do, and I love the people I work with, so it makes it easy,” Sanson said.

Studiale said Sanson was ready to learn, but more importantly, he just had all of the “good traits” you can’t teach.

“He has never missed a day of work,” Studiale said. “Sometimes, he’s not always on time, but he is always here.”

Sanson’s father wasn’t in his life, so he said it was clear that Studiale was the father figure that he needed when he was a teenage boy.

“At his wedding, he made a toast, and he acknowledged me, but he referred to me as his father,” Studiale said adding, “I remember sitting at the table that day with the rest of the party and I am like, ‘Wow!”

Sanson said the businessman who shares his J.S. initials earned his trust and admiration.

“I call Jack my dad,” Sanson said. “He taught me how to tie my tie. That’s a big deal.”

Sanson is at the front of the house and he became the first manager of the family business who isn’t Studiale’s biological relative.

“I started gifting Jackson shares of stock, so now he’s actually an owner,” Studiale said.

Sanson said he is forever grateful and can’t picture his life any other way.

“I am so blessed,” Sanson said. “This is the place God chose for me to come. I plan on being here until I can’t work anymore.”

About the Author:

Jeff Weinsier joined Local 10 News in September 1994. He is currently an investigative reporter for Local 10. He is also responsible for the very popular Dirty Dining segments.