After tearful video, community comes to the aid of Long Beach restaurant drowning in debt

Oscar Rodriguez, owner of Cantarito Molito’s Grill on Pacific Coast Highway, posted a heartfelt video to the restaurant’s Instagram page letting customers know the COVID-19 pandemic was driving the restaurant to the verge of closing.

In the video, Rodriguez is seen fighting back tears saying that he doesn’t want to close his doors and urges people to help out in any way they can.

The community heeded his call. As of Saturday afternoon, the video has picked up over 40,000 views and grabbed the attention of Tito Rodriguez—most commonly known as the Hood Santa for his humanitarian group Local Hearts.

“I felt the pain,” Rodriguez said. “You can see it in his eyes. I saw the call for action.”

Tito Rodriguez gathered a group of his friends and other social media influencers and visited Oscar Rodriguez’s restaurant on Saturday. Through the Local Hearts organization, Oscar Rodriguez was given close to $2,000 to help keep his business afloat.

Upon receiving the money, Oscar Rodriguez broke down in tears.

“I just needed help,” he said. “The two to three months of closing patio dining is what hurt me the most.”

But the help didn’t stop there. People from across Southern California reached out, even a woman in Spain. Rodriguez’s restaurant staff set up a GoFundMe account to accept donations to keep the restaurant going.

Rodriguez said he was approximately $140,000 in debt, and that no bank or private lender gave him a grant or loan because he hadn’t recorded any earnings in 2019—he didn’t open until 2020.

The restaurant’s fundraiser had collected over $5,000 on Saturday.

Martin Luzanilla, co-owner of Mexihanas Hibachi Grill in Central Long Beach, donated $800 to Rodriguez. As a fellow business owner, Luzanilla understood the desperation Rodriguez was going through.

“Being broke at one point, you know what the feeling is like,” Luzanilla said. “We saw a fellow business owner in need. We’ll survive this one way or another.”

Tito Rodriguez—most commonly known as the Hood Santa for his humanitarian nonprofit Local Hearts—donated approximately $2,000 to Oscar Rodriguez, owner of Cantarito Molito’s Grill. Photo by Sebastian Echeverry Jan. 30, 2021.

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Sebastian Echeverry is the North Long Beach reporter through the Report for America program. Philanthropic organizations pledged to cover the local donor portion of his grant-funded position with the Long Beach Post. If you want to support Sebastian's work, you can donate to his Report for America position at lbpost.com/support.
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