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El Zarape restaurant celebrates 60 years
March 15, 1952: Tony and Eleanore Gonzales open El Zarape on Garden Highway.
c. 1977: David and Ana Gonzales take over ownership of the restaurant with David's sisters.
c. 1987: David and Ana take over sole ownership.
c. 1992: El Zarape moves from its original location on Garden Highway to a new spot on Gray Avenue.
c. 2003: The restaurant moves again, this time to its current location on Stafford Way.
2008: The family opens a second restaurant, El Azteca, in Yuba City.
March 15: El Zarape will celebrate its 60th anniversary.
One of David Gonzales's first jobs at his family's Mexican restaurant was to make sure the drunks from the bar next door stayed out of his parking lot.
The bar was rough, full of poor white men who yelled at him, "Get out, brown boy!"
"It's a miracle I didn't come out in a body bag," Gonzales said with a smile he can flash now that its a 52-year-old memory.
Now 72, Gonzales survived, and so did the restaurant. In fact, El Zarape celebrates 60 years in business next week after opening its doors on March 15, 1952.
Gonzales's mom, Eleanore, opened the restaurant with her husband, Tony, after following her mom from their home in Texas to Los Angeles and eventually to Marysville.
"When we arrived here, we didn't know a soul in town," Gonzales said, drinking a cup of coffee — black — next to his wife, Ana, 65, who has worked in the restaurant since the mid-1960s.
They know lots of souls after serving multiple generations for more than half a century. The restaurant hosted a wedding, proms and countless proposals said son Robert Gonzales, 40.
"I used to hold babies," David Gonzales said, "and now they come in with their kids."
The town has changed a lot since the early 1950s. When El Zarape opened, Yuba City was a tiny ag town of about 8,000, kid sister to Marysville. Colusa Highway was the town's northern border, Plumas Street its main drag. David Gonzales went to Yuba City Union High — the only high school in town.
"It was just a small town," Ana Gonzales said.
The town's gotten bigger and now dwarfs Marysville. So, too, has the restaurant, which outgrew its original digs after about 40 years on Garden Highway. It has moved twice since then — first to a spot on Gray Avenue and then to its current location on Stafford Way just north of Colusa Highway.
The original restaurant sat about 60 people, while the current version can handle 200, Gonzales said. The work his parents, Ana and he have put in have set his children up. Over decades, they built a clientele and reputation by cooking fresh, flavorful food, selling it cheap and serving it quickly with a good attitude. His kids need only to carry on those traditions to keep those hard won clients and reap the financial rewards.
"My kids have it made in the shade," David Gonzales said. "They walk in and they have tons of money."
The restaurant has grown, true, but it's still a local business, something that's getting more and more rare, Robert Gonzales said.
"I get disappointed looking at all these businesses that have been around for so long and they're gone, just like that.
"I see these big corporate stores coming in," he continued. "I'm not against big corporations or anything, but sometimes I think it's nice to have a little local restaurant."
The son will have to be part of the generation that carries the torch. And he is. Gonzales runs El Zarape's sister restaurant, El Azteca, which opened in 2008 in Marysville.
Robert and his siblings will have to take over completely and continue the business in the near future.
"They better. After we're gone, we're gone," his father said. "I can't do this anymore. My nerves are gone. It's time to move on and let somebody else take over."
Robert Gonzales can't see it, not his mom, not completely anyway.
"My mom is a psycho worker. That girl, I don't know how she does it," he said. "I could not see her quitting till the day she dies."
Working in the family's restaurant is too much of her identity, too much of who she is, he added before talking about how working in the family business next to your dad, your mom and your siblings makes you who you are.
"It becomes such a part of you when you've been doing it a long time."
CONTACT reporter Jonathan Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4780. Find him on Facebook at /ADjedwards or on Twitter at @ADjedwards.