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Orange County Focus

PLACENTIA : Restaurateur Gives Back to the Public

September 20, 1993|DANIELLE A. FOUQUETTE

Raul Davis may never have a street, city building or park named after him, but those who know him well say he is building a legacy nonetheless.

From his efforts to spruce up the city's historic downtown, Placita Santa Fe, to preserving Mexican heritage, to giving jobs to local teen-agers considered unemployable, Davis' Tlaquepaque restaurant has become an unofficial civic and cultural center for many of the city's Latinos.

"Placita Santa Fe wouldn't be the same without Raul," said Jim Soto, director of recreation and human services for the city. "He's not into making a quick buck and splitting. He wants to see the betterment of the community."

When Davis' parents opened Tlaquepaque on Santa Fe Avenue in 1964, it was surrounded by bars and flophouses.

While there were other retail businesses, the area suffered from a reputation as an unsafe place to shop and eat.

Both Soto and Police Chief Manuel Ortega give Davis much of the credit for turning Placita Santa Fe into a tidy retail district that has experienced a steady growth in sales.

His efforts, they said, have inspired other business owners to renovate their buildings.

"Davis was one of the first businesses to put money back into rehabbing his building," Soto said.

The visible proof of that inspiration is in the recently renovated buildings across the street and next door to his restaurant.

The Kraemer Building and the Santa Fe Hotel were once illegal boardinghouses. Now they house modern apartments and retail space, including a small grocery store.

Civic pride also has returned to the area, where the city holds its annual Festival of Arts and Culture Street Faire.

Local merchants have formed the Downtown Merchants Assn. and worked with the city to improve lighting, landscaping, signs and banners.

Less visible, but perhaps more significant, has been Davis' efforts to help local youth.

Children from neighborhoods south of Chapman Avenue can be found sweeping the sidewalks in front of Tlaquepaque in exchange for a meal and pocket money.

Davis employs eight to 12 teen-agers and young adults in his restaurant and bakery at any one time.

"A lot of teens here would love to work. I like to give them a chance," Davis said. "It's more of a community business than just my restaurant."

Twelve-year-old Ray, who lives around the corner from Tlaquepaque, is typical. On a recent Sunday, he was up at dawn to sweep the sidewalk in front of the restaurant.

"His father passed away and the mother has had a hard time feeding the eight children," Davis said. "I have Ray and some of the other kids come in, work a few hours to make sure there is milk and food at home."

Davis admits that using inexperienced teen-age employees is hard work for him. For most, working at Tlaquepaque is their first job, and Davis has to teach them the importance of being on time, how to dress and how to treat customers.

But the satisfaction when a former employee goes to college or gets a better-paying job is worth the effort, Davis said.

Both Ortega and Soto call Davis a role model, but the 41-year-old father of two doesn't see it that way.

"I feel lucky that I always had a place to work," Davis said. "It kept me in line. I just want to give that chance to some other kids."

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