As Andres Garcia sips a lightly golden drink called an Airmail, his favorite, at Bellagio’s Hyde, he drinks in the scene, too. Not that the animated executive stays quiet for long. As he passionately launches into an anecdote about his latest creation, the Fountains of Bellagio burst and swirl in an aquatic spectacle just off the lounge’s open-air patio. Illuminated by the lights of the Strip, the shooting waters dance in time to the soaring vocals of Luciano Pavarotti singing “Rondine al Nido,” and in the foreground the overlord of the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens looks like a star. He gives off the hipslick vibe of the “other” Andy Garcia, the Hollywood actor. But Garcia, Bellagio’s executive director of horticulture, is not apt to be swept away by the trappings of the chic nightclub, its fancy libations and great food, or even the Strip’s magnificent water show. The man who specializes in botanical growth and arrangement is humble to his roots, the 13th of 17 children born into a farming family in the small town of Ereguayquín, El Salvador. Ever since one of his seven brothers found him a job in Vegas working for a landscaping company, the life and career of Andres Garcia—the city’s greatest plant manager—have blossomed.
You’ve said you grew up eating what your family harvested.
Yes, we ate food from the farm. Well, we ate from what we produced on the farm. [Thinking] back to El Salvador, growing up on the farm and eating all fresh and organic food, it was delicious.
How have your tastes evolved over time?
The food in the US is different. The taste is better, to me. Bellagio has all of these places to eat, and the flavor is so good. My expectations have changed, even though we grew from the farm and ate from the land. Now coming in here, if I go to Michael Mina, I know what I want: I want the [shellfish] sample platter. Another place I like to go is Olives, because of the thin-crust pizzas. It is one of our best restaurants. Now, instead of portion size, I am looking at the presentation. When I travel, I take a picture of every plate that I eat. I show my wife and say, “Look at this! This is what I ate.”
Do you make traditional food at home?
Whenever I feel nostalgic, I go to a Salvadorean place—Las Pupusas or [Ilopango] Salvadorean Restaurant—and I ask for pupusas, or chorizo con huevos with three tortillas, and horchata. They have those little dishes that my grandma or my mom used to make for me. My mind changes, becomes clear, and I am in El Salvador. They speak Spanish and they have the flag, the cigarettes, the chips and dips.
What about maintaining perspective—is that a challenge for you?
Yes, because in this job it’s easy for your head to become bigger than it is. There is so much that is thrown at you. All of that can easily take you out of your senses. I have a team of 115 people working under me. In our division we have so much talent I cannot begin to tell you. I am fortunate to be the front man, but without those people, I don’t exist.
Building the conservatory is a massive operation.
We start on a Sunday at 12:01 a.m., and we have an entourage of 75 to 105 people working around the clock. It’s fascinating. Depending on what’s going on, my assistant will bring me coffee or tea, or she’ll call and say, “You’ve gotta go eat.” I get so drawn into the work because I like it so much.
So, how is it that a young man from a little farming town in El Salvador can be transported in the trunk of a car from Tijuana into Southern California?
In 1984, there were offices in El Salvador saying, “We will take you to the US for $5,000.” You go there, they give you a fake Mexican visa, and they bring you in. I went there with my brother-in-law saying, “Hey, I’ve got Andres here and he wants to go to the United States.” He said, “We’re going to put you in a plane, you’re going to be landing in Tijuana, someone is going to be waiting for you, you’re going to spend the night, and the following day you’re going to pass.”
You must have been terrified.
When that was happening, I was shaking so bad. But you know, they pulled me out of the trunk near Disneyland—I knew because I saw a sign that read DISNEYLAND 5 MILES from under a bridge. Then I was in the passenger’s seat, and I was looking at the cars, the buildings, the landscape, at the freeways, all that. But all I could think was I was in America.
When you are walking around the Bellagio, do you ever consciously think of that moment?
Every day. Every day.… I will never forget where I have come from. When I look at Bellagio, when I look at MGM Resorts, when I look at the United States, I always say to myself, “How lucky I am to be here.”