By SAMANTHA MASUNAGA
Over the course of 59 years, Manuel Rojas befriended numerous Japanese American customers at his Boyle Heights restaurant, El Tepeyac Café.
Even after the predominantly Japanese American community started to scatter after the war, loyal clientele returned to patronize the restaurant and visit with the long-time owner.
As a result, Rojas decided to take action after hearing of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and asked his nephew and co-owner Joey Duran about hosting a benefit at El Tepeyac.
With his uncle’s encouragement, Duran asked food suppliers for donations so the restaurant could donate the full food sales for the day. Employees also offered to donate their time and a business partner said it would provide financial support.
With these aspects in line, Rojas’ idea became a reality and the restaurant’s relief fundraiser will take place Tuesday. All food sales will benefit UNICEF, which Duran said is the most direct way to send money to disaster victims in Japan.
“We’ve been getting a lot of good responses from the community,” Duran said, adding that the event has been well-publicized online. “We’re looking forward to a good turnout.”
The restaurant has held other benefits in the past, including a fundraiser for acclaimed calculus teacher Jaime Escalante, who was diagnosed with cancer.
During that event, El Tepeyac raised about $7,000 to help Escalante pay his steep medical bills. Since the Japan benefit has garnered great attention, the restaurant will likely match this amount – or surpass it, said Jonathan Fukumoto, a representative of the Fukumoto Family Trust.
The Fukumoto and Rojas families met during a financial transaction for the restaurant last year. Since the Fukumotos owned Mago’s restaurant in West Los Angeles for many years, the families bonded over their shared family-owned business backgrounds. When the Rojas family decided to open a second El Tepeyac restaurant in the City of Industry, they asked the Fukumotos to be their business partner.
After hearing about the fundraiser, the Fukumotos were willing and ready to contribute.
“We wanted to help,” Fukumoto said.
The fundraiser will be held from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. during normal business hours. In addition to the full donation of food sales, there will be an additional collection box in the restaurant and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce will also be taking donations on site.