Monday, March 21, 2011
Grandma's restaurant in Oceanside is a typical mom-and-pop joint, but also proof of the demographic changes that the 2010 Census shows are sweeping San Diego County.
SAN DIEGO In the back of the dining room, three old timers from around the neighborhood are having a leisurely brunch.
Bruce Mumpfield has been coming here for almost two decades and religiously orders grits for breakfast. The city may have been changing all around him during that time, but his Southern comfort food from Grandma’s restaurant is the same.
“I’ve been in Oceanside since 1972," he said. "I’ve had that house for 31 years, almost 32 years, so I’ve seen a lot of changes in this area. It’s grown up.”
As a result, some all-American local businesses have changed hands to Latino families. Four years ago, Grandma’s was sold by Art and Debbie Coleman, an older white couple, to Galdina Jimenez and Faustino Hernandez, a Latino and Mexican immigrant couple in their late twenties.
“I’ve been here since the previous owners and they were a little bit different; they didn’t make much money," said Mumpfield, reminiscing about the old Grandma's. "Since he’s taken over the restaurant, a lot more people come here. They work very good at giving people what they want. The guy bends over backwards.”
That reputation for hard work and customer service has served Hernandez and Jimenez well. The couple has made a point to cater to the old clientele—mostly retirees—and cultivate a new one: Latino families. Their menu features an eclectic mix of Italian pastas, huevos rancheros and Mumpfield’s favorite, chicken fried steak and grits.
Hernandez credits his success to the fact he started here as a cook more than 10 years ago when he moved to San Diego from Oaxaca, Mexico.
“Because I’m a cook, and my wife is a server," said Hernandez, explaining the reasons for his business success. "The previous owners, they were working for the police department, so they weren’t into the business as much, I would say. I do everything: I’m a cook. I’m a server. I’m everything.”
In the last 10 years, the Latino population in this part of Oceanside has doubled, while the Caucasian community has diminished by 10 percent. This trend can be found as well throughout the rest of Oceanside, San Diego County, and throughout the Southwest.
Many of those people are retirees, living in cookie-cutter planned developments on a hill overlooking the city that is a short walk away from Grandma’s restaurant. Hernandez said that catering to seniors has helped his restaurant weather the Great Recession.
“Basically, we’re still here thanks to them, because we have some regulars that come in all the time and they’re retired," Hernandez said. "So the economy didn’t affect us because they’re not working, but their paycheck is still the same every month.”
Like many other restaurants and businesses that require employees to deliver goods and services, Grandma’s restaurant relies on some immigrant labor--about half of its staff--many of whom are young, hardworking, and versatile in the kitchen.
Twenty-one year old Emeterio Rodriguez, from Michoacan, Mexico, said he lucked out when found a job as a cook here, working for a fellow Mexican. He said he likes living in a city like Oceanside with a growing Latino population. But this, he emphasized, is nothing like his home in Mexico.
“I think Mexico is much nicer than here," said Rodriguez, as he fried dough in the kitchen for a Mexican salad bowl. "Here in the U.S., it’s lonely, but you can give your children what they need and that’s the most important thing. I’d do anything to be able to work in Mexico but it’s impossible, because here is where the money is.”
Currently, there are more than 2,000 Latino-owned businesses in Oceanside, ranging from child care to car repair shops, according to the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce.
Even during the recent economic downturn, cities like Oceanside have meant greater opportunity for immigrants because they provide them with the means to make a decent living. The case of Faustino Hernandez and his wife, Galdina Jimenez, is increasingly common, and showcases the promise of a Latino and American dream: starting and running your own successful business, and providing a better future for your kids.