• Giving back: Local entrepreneur shares his good fortune

    by Cameron Douglas

    mandoCMYKMidday on a Sunday: Rich chords from a Spanish guitar resound inside a modest restaurant on Fountain Avenue in Pacific Grove. Dancers are dressed in traditional flamenco garb: ladies in bright, flowing dresses, men wearing black. Performers chat with restaurant guests and explain the dances’ histories and meanings. There’s a warm, relaxed feeling in the room as people enjoy each other’s company. It’s one of many ways Mando’s Mexican Restaurant serves the community.

    Mando’s is nearing a three-year anniversary, having opened in September 2010. The owner, Armando Cruz, comes from humble beginnings. Born in Barcelona, Cruz grew up in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. He came to California and picked grapes in the fields near Fresno. The tremendous heat of California’s Central Valley took him by surprise. “I wanted to go back [to Oaxaca],” Cruz says, “but I had no more money.”

    After moving to the Monterey area, Cruz worked various jobs in restaurants including Corral De Tierra Country Club and the Forge in Carmel. During this time he studied hospitality at Monterey Peninsula College under the instruction of PG Chamber President Moe Ammar.
    Cruz worked and saved until he spotted the Fountain Avenue location and decided to go out on his own. In the process of getting his restaurant established, Cruz interacted with many people. One of those is Alicia Morena-Di Palma of the Aditi Foundation, an organization dedicated to the preservation of cultures through dance. (The Aditi Foundation also supports dance scholarships countywide.) On a day volunteering for Animal Friends Rescue Project, Morena-Di Palma and a friend stopped in at Mando’s for lunch. “We said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to do some flamenco here,’” Morena-Di Palma recalls. They asked Cruz if he’d be interested and got an enthusiastic response.

    flamencoCMYKThat was late last year. Since then, the flamenco performances have become a regular attraction. Performances happen every third Sunday from 12 pm to 1. Most of the dancers came from the MPC dance program.

    Cruz continues to find ways to help others. He founded the Armando Cruz Scholarship, where he offers $200 to the Monterey County Office of Education, and he does this four times a year. He is a regular donor for scholarships that are awarded to dancers by the Aditi Foundation. He sends regular donations to people in Oaxaca and Honduras, and keeps pictures of their smiling faces on his phone. And each year shortly before Christmas, Mando’s Restaurant opens its doors for a special holiday buffet that is open to the public. The food is made from recipes by Cruz and his chef, Adan Rosiles. Cruz estimates about 400 people attended last year.

    The owner of Mando’s Restaurant maintains a philosophy that making money shouldn’t be the only focus in life: “It makes you feel like a better person when you give something back.”

    posted to Cedar Street Times on September 12, 2013

    Topics: Cameron Douglas, Your Achievements: Peeps

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