I will never forget the early morning of August 23, 2015. It was 6:30 AM on a Sunday and I had gotten up early as usual to get a head start on Sunday's post-church breakfast rush at my restaurant, Rocio's Mole De Los Dioses, in LA's San Fernando Valley.
My alarm that morning was a text that I got from my business partner: "They burned down the restaurant."
I thought I was having a nightmare at first—this just couldn't be true. However, I quickly realized that I wasn't dreaming, and this text was very real. I couldn't get to the restaurant fast enough. When I finally arrived, my partner's tears and the smell of burnt stucco let me know that someone had intentionally burnt down my restaurant overnight.
There are no words to accurately describe your feelings when you see your blood, sweat, and tears literally charred up in front of you. My feelings were amplified when I saw the sign of my restaurant—which featured my name—burned down, too. It was a combination of intense sadness and fear. Who would do such a thing?
I stepped inside and saw almost everything that I worked so hard burned to the ground: my handmade wood tables and chairs that I imported from Guadalajara, Mexico; my pots, pans, and cooking equipment that I paid for through installments because I was so broke at the time; the printed positive reviews from local publications and Jonathan Gold—everything. We immediately filed a police report and they are currently investigating, but it has been confirmed that the cause was arson because the surveillance cameras from both the gas station and law offices across the street from my restaurant recorded the entire incident.
I contemplated about my life at this point.
I came to the US from a small town in Oaxaca called Huajutan de Leon to rise above all when I was 19 years old. It had been a dream of mine to have my own restaurant specializing in moles since the first time that I made a handmade tortilla to scoop it up with—I was nine years old. I had worked through some of LA's most celebrated Mexican restaurants for years; I remembered how excited I was when I first met my restaurant partner for Rocio's Mole de Los Dioses and the intense inspiration when I first found out that I would have a place to call my own. I was so deeply grateful.
The restaurant was declared a total loss and now I have to start from zero all over again.
I also felt satisfied because I was finally making my lifelong dream come true. Especially because I had come out of a bad situation with another restaurant partner a few months before this opportunity with Rocio's Mole De Los Dioses (I had to take my ex-restaurant partner to court to have them drop my name). All this, only to have my restaurant go up in smoke.
In the three months leading up this, my restaurant was broken into four different times, which is why we finally got a safe to store our money. I think the fact that the thieves were not able to find any money during this last time around upset them and probably caused them to burn everything down in revenge. But this is just a suspicion.
If the arsonists out there are reading this, I would just like you to know that by burning down my restaurant, you are also affecting the families of my 20 employees and their wellbeing.
In total, my partner and I had invested around $150,000 in the restaurant. But it only gets worse from there, as we also discovered that our restaurant insurance had expired a few days before this incident; the restaurant was declared a total loss and now I have to start from zero all over again. Fortunately, I was able to open another restaurant in another part of town with some of the money that I made from this one that got burned down, but now I am scared that the same will happen to that one, too.
The crazy thing is that my restaurant is not the first to get burned down in this part of town. A few months ago, another Mexican restaurant specializing in tortas ahogada was burned down, too, allegedly by gangbangers. Nor was it the only restaurant in that part of town that was continuously broken into.
If the arsonists out there are reading this, I would just like you to know that by burning down my restaurant, you are also affecting the families of my 20 employees and their wellbeing. And to other restaurateur entrepreneurs out there, I can't stress enough the importance of being vigilant and aware of your surroundings in order to prevent something like this to happen to you.
As told to and translated by Javier Cabral
This post was originally published on August, 2015.