From the Big City to Life as a Restaurateur in Costa Rica

Jillian Feibusch knew early on that there was a better life to be had other than living in the craziness of the San Francisco Bay Area. “I was working as a makeup artist for Chanel. Because of the high cost of living, daily commute, health issues, and the intense desire to do something more with my life, I moved to Costa Rica so I could breathe,” she says.

In 2013, Jillian vacationed in Costa Rica and was pleasantly surprised at how she was able to do so much more physically than her heart condition allowed her to do in the U.S. So much so that a couple of months later she purchased a one-way ticket to Costa Rica, rented a car and hotel for two weeks, and the rest as they say is history.

Jillian made the quaint town of La Fortuna, located on the shores of Lake Arenal her home. “La Fortuna had everything to make everyday life manageable and that’s what I was looking for,” she says. The small, yet bustling town was a far cry from the mega city she had left behind.

Plus there was the added bonus of living at the base of Volcán Arenal (Arenal Volcano). “The Energy of Volcán Arenal was it for me. The chance to live so close to this stunning beauty was the experience I was looking for,” Jillian says. But after a couple of years, and meeting Arthuro (the love of her life), they decided to move their home to the smaller town of Nuevo Arenal.

“Nuevo Arenal is perfect for our growing family and business,” Jillian says.

Nuevo Arenal had all the qualities this big-city girl was yearning for. From its single bank, medical clinic, gas station, and high school to a few grocery stores, pharmacies, and small-town police station, Nuevo Arenal offered the slower pace of life that the couple was looking for.

“In this part of Costa Rica everything is closed on Sundays and church bells still ring from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week,” Jillian says. “It feels like the U.S. 50 years ago.”

This was the type of town that Jillian and Arthuro knew they wanted to start a business and raise a family. Arthuro’s culinary skills coupled with his prior experience of working in restaurants, meant the decision to open a restaurant of their own was a no-brainer. Before long, Casa Paniagua opened its doors for business.

“My dream was to not have the typical 9-to-5, but now we have that…and so much more. We are open six days a week and we serve organically fresh breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. On Sundays we spend time as a family with our kids and also participate at the local farmers’ market,” says Jillian.

Jillian jokes that back in the U.S. she shopped for shoes, but now she shops for dairy cows. “I bought all my food at the stores and ate out most of the time. Now we grow most of our own food or at least know where 85% of it comes from.”

Her unique living situation helps to further save her family money. “We live in a restaurant,” she says. “Our bedroom windows look out onto the dining room floor. Our own living space has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a TV room with air conditioning. It’s comfortable and saves us money. We pay around $700 a month rent, and when you add in all our own utilities; water, power, internet, home phone, we pay about $1,300 per month.”

Running a restaurant and having a home in Costa Rica is more affordable than anything Jillian could have experienced back home. It also allows her and Arthuro to spend more time with their kids, while offering extended periods off to travel during the slow season.

“Our restaurant gives us a platform to help organizations in our community,” says Jillian, who is an active member in the Nuevo Arenal community. Jillian and Arthuro created an English-speaking program that is also run out of the restaurant. They’ve also run an annual community Chili Cook-off at the end of August. “Those funds help support the local school and the local spay/neuter efforts around the lake.”

Jillian says she couldn’t be happier here. She has a loving family, a thriving business, and a comfortable home…she followed her hear to Costa Rica and it led her straight to her dream life.

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