Abel Sanchez talks employees, fundraising, and dreams up in smoke
■ By Kyle Selby / Reporter
Abel Sanchez, owner of the popular Mexican grill and cantina El Patron, is unsure of what the new year holds for him and his team of more than 41 employees. It was just two weeks ago that the favorable local restaurant caught fire and burned to ruins, leaving nothing but broken dreams and rubble behind.
“My alarm company contacted me at 1:38 am. When I arrived [at the restaurant], everything was already on fire pretty bad,” Sanchez recalled. “I was trying to help and everything, but of course the fire department told me I had to step back. And then I just saw how my dreams started turning into ashes.”
Sanchez said that he called his business partner who is also his brother-in-law, Fermin Hernandez, on site, to tell him that “their dream is gone.”
Sanchez has met with the Cal Fire/Riverside Fire officials who have informed him that the cause of fire is still under investigation.
“We haven’t found the cause of the fire yet, but it looks like they’re working hard to find out what is going on,” Sanchez said. “As of this moment, we don’t know anything yet.”
According to Sanchez, there is nearly $2 million worth of property damage to the restaurant. When the two opened shop back in 2011, they invested nearly $900,000 to get El Patron up and running.
“It’s our dream, I can tell you that,” he said. “But as of this time, we’re still dealing with the insurance, so we don’t even have something on the table yet. To open up this place again, it will take a while.”
Sanchez says that he has been in touch with his employees since the devastation, and has expressed that most of them are willing to come back to work, if there is a chance of reopening.
“That’s what they’re hoping. We’re hoping that we open again, and they said wherever they are, they can come back and be a part of El Patron again,” said Sanchez. “I really think that I had a strong team, it was one of the best teams I’ve ever seen. I’ve been working in restaurants for a long time, and the team that I had really, really worked hard.”
Everybody is still trying to get back on their feet. One of El Patron’s regular customers has kickstarted a fundraiser for the restaurant’s employees, most of whom worked full time at the restaurant. Additionally, one of Sanchez’s friends, who practices law in Riverside, will be handling the collections, which will be presented to all of them and divided accordingly.
“A lot of people loved [El Patron], and it was one of the best places in town. We feel so proud of that, and all the support they gave us. It was great.” This April would have marked El Patron’s six year anniversary.
“Many ideas come to you, but nothing concludes. You imagine anything and everything when you see something like this,” thought Sanchez, on the cause of the fire that destroyed his business. “I really think that the fire department is working hard for that and hopefully they find the cause, but at this time right now, it’s not going to be helpful for us. We lost everything.”
Sanchez is still dealing with his insurance company to sort out all of the numbers. He is unsure of when and where he will be working now, but has juggled the idea of going back to bussing or bartending.
“I don’t even know what’s going to happen. This is what I’ve been doing most of my life. I can say maybe I can go to work in construction or stuff like that, but my best bet is probably in the restaurant industry.”
Sanchez continued to throw around ideas, such as he and Hernandez selling their houses and vehicles for another business venture, but is afraid that even those measures might not be enough to get back up off the ground.
“Our dream is to open another one, but like I said, you need a lot of money for that, and we know that, and it will be really, really hard.”