“Is it true? Did Manny Rojas die?” a woman called EGP to ask on Wednesday morning.
She was upset to learn that the news circulating via word of mouth and on social media sites was in fact true: the popular co-owner of famed Boyle Heights eatery El Tepeyac lost his battle with cancer and died Tuesday at White Memorial Medical Center. He was 79.
Manuel Rojas, better known as Manny, was the face and many say the vision for El Tepeyac Café, opened in 1952 by the Rojas family, and still standing at it’s location on Evergreen Avenue in Boyle Heights. A second location was opened years later in the City of Industry.
Rojas was an icon of sorts in the community, both for his restaurant’s great food, and for his support of local activities in the community.
People near and far were remembering Manny Wednesday, sharing stories about their encounters with him at the restaurant known for its Manny Special, a five pound burrito that would earn you a free El Tepeyac t-shirt if you could eat the whole thing, or the tasty Hollenbeck and Okie burritos that were the food of choice following the famed East L.A. Classic or any number of special events.
“He would stand there grinning while you tried to eat the whole Manuel’s Special, kinda like he was daring you to fail,” Jaime Morales told EGP by email. “It’s funny, I hate waiting in line, but it never bothered me to wait, sometimes for an hour, outside El Tepeyac. It was like that’s what I have to do, like paying dues or earning the right to a spot in the restaurant,” he said. “The reward was the food.”
Under Rojas’ direction, the restaurant won praise from a number of food critics and earned spots on several “Best Of” food rankings, including the Travel Channel’s 101 Best Chowdowns in America in 2009 and Yelp.com, CitySearch.com, Wherethelocalseat.com, AOLCityBest.com, and write-ups in “Los Angeles” and “Sunset” magazines, usually earning four stars for his Mexican food and friendly service.
According to the El Tepeyac website, four generations of the Rojas family have been a part of El Tepeyac’s success, but Manny until fairly recently could be seen at the restaurant on most days.
As of press time, funeral arrangements were still pending. Check www.EGPNews.com for details when they become available.