When Cristal Haro visited Velarde’s Fruits last Saturday, she was distraught when she saw the face of owner Modesto Navarro. The man, who has worked at the César Chávez Ave. restaurant for 30 years –and has owned the spot the last 15– had been assaulted and left him with a broken nose and both eyes blackened.
The day before, a 32-year-old man who police identified as a transient entered the restaurant and became aggressive with a customer. When Navarro asked him to leave, he hit with a napkin dispenser.
“I was really concerned for his safety and his well being,” recalled Haro, a Boyle Heights painter who has been eating at the restaurant since she was a child. “He was visibly shaken, he was very emotional, he couldn’t even tell me the story without tearing up.”
“And I thought it was incredible that he was at work the next day. It goes to show how strong and dedicated he is, his work ethic, and how much love he gives to the community.”
Haro decided to start a GoFundMe campaign, to help raise funds for Navarro’s medical care and to help him buy an electronic security system for the restaurant. Haro thought it would be a good way “to show him how much Boyle Heights, the community that he has served for 30 years, appreciates him.”
As of Thursday evening, the GoFundMe campaign had raised about a third of a $12,000 goal. Haro felt confident the campaign would meet the goal, considering the wide media coverage the incident has received – and the affection Velarde customers have for Navarro.
“It’s been wonderful,” she said, adding that Navarro had gained that affection through years of good customer service and dedication. “It’s been extremely moving to see the community come together and recognize him.”
Haro said she hoped that the media attention would raise awareness of a growing mental health crisis affecting the unhoused community.
The Eastsider reported that the man who had assaulted Navarro had been in the restaurant several times before, without incident. On Friday, a witness pointed him to officers, who chased him and arrested him a few blocks away. He has been accused of assault with a deadly weapon with an object other than a firearm, the outlet said.
But Haro also hopes that the incident also highlights the importance of having small, mom and pop stores in communities like Boyle Heights.
“Mr. Modesto has been there for 30 years,” she said. “We’re talking about a Mexican-owned restaurant in a predominantly Mexican community. And it’s extremely important and valuable that we preserve and protect it.”