Jose “Salvador” Perez-Ruelas passed away peacefully on Sunday evening February 21, 2016. He was surrounded by his family and wife of sixty-eight years, Serafina “Josie” Perez.
Mr. Perez, as he was known by friends and the larger community, is survived by five children, fifteen grandchildren, thirty great-grandchildren and nine great-great-grandchildren.
After his parents, Altagracia Perez Ruelas-Bracamonte and Ramon Perez-Monroy passed away prematurely, Mr. Perez, a feisty and independent young man boarded a cruise ship and emigrated from Mexico to the United States at twelve years old. He eventually settled in California via Texas. In 1948 in Dinuba, California, Mr. Perez met his sweetheart Josie. The infamously sassy story is as follows: After following a beautiful young girl to the movies and sitting behind her for several hours, Mr. Perez convinced mutual friends who were to give Josie a ride home to instead let him drive her. Once Mr. Perez was in the car, their two other friends got out, leaving Josie and Salvador together where they then drove to the river. The rest is history and hotly debated! Needless to say there was a spark and they married shortly thereafter and started a family.
Always working hard to support his growing family, Mr. Perez found agricultural employment in the central valley primarily on a grape farm.
However, Mr. Perez was ambitious. In 1957 in San Francisco, California, he took a risk, embarking on what would become nearly a fifty-year career as a business owner, primarily in the restaurant industry. He first partnered with his sister and opened a Laundromat, later opening El Grullo Restaurant, which he relocated to Bay Shore Boulevard. “I didn’t know how to cook!” he often said. As the story goes, with help from his wife just a few days prior, Mr. Perez learned the basics of cooking. To his advantage, he was naturally hospitable and outgoing with his customers. Mr. Perez and his family then moved to the San Juaquin Valley and, subsequently, Sonoma County where he worked several jobs including at a poultry farm, selling cars, and more, before opening another restaurant.
For nearly the next half century, he owned and operated El Cabrón Restaurant in Cloverdale and several businesses in Santa Rosa including El Grullo Pues Restaurant, Perez Family Bakery, Perez Family Restaurant, and El Palomar.
There is no doubt Mr. Perez had an exceptionally strong work ethic. Employed in his restaurants over twelve hours a day, seven days a week, he took great pride in what he provided for his family and community. Very often, he recruited family members to work in the restaurants so they might learn the same ethic. If you were six years old, you could roll the forks and knives in napkins for table settings. If you were fourteen, you could learn to wait tables and so on and so on. His restaurants were truly family businesses where the expectations were set high and there was no way to disingenuously impress Grandpa or keep your tips a secret!
Over the years, the larger community affectionately came to know Mr. Perez for his uninhibited sense of humor, sociable disposition, dignified presence and warm heart. His reputation was based on his often-selfless acts, done without reservation for others in need. If a patron could not afford food, he would feed them. If a homeless person was out in the rain, he brought them in and gave them a warm plate of tacos. This kindness and compassion eventually put Mr. Perez’s name in the newspaper when a journalist who had lost his wallet on a trip, stopped in the restaurant hungry and Mr. Perez fed him and handed him five dollars for his journey home. This is how he will be remembered by his community; a man of small stature who, with small acts of kindness and a lot of humor, made an extraordinary impact on the lives of both friends and strangers alike. In 2000, Mr. Perez retired.
In retirement, Mr. and Mrs. Perez continued their hospitality from home, never letting you leave without first eating. They spent much more time visiting their large family, playing the slots at the casino, and counseling their grandchildren, and great grandchildren about the importance of education and hard work. Mr. Perez was a grandfather, yes, but also a father to all of his grandchildren. Over the last ten years, Mr. Perez developed a community of friends and acquaintances near their home in Cotati. Although often easy to say, but seldom true, in his case it could not be more accurate: everybody knew Mr. Perez and everybody loved him. He will be missed tremendously. But as he used to say humorously, “as always, [we] had the pleasure of seeing him.” Thank you Apá. Thank you Grandpa. Thank you Mr. Perez.
A devout Catholic until the end of his life, a funeral mass will be held in his honor on March 18th at 10:30 AM at Saint Rose Catholic Church, 398 10th St. Santa Rosa, CA 95401. Additionally there will be a memorial luncheon immediately following the funeral mass at 12:30 PM at the Saturday Afternoon Club, 430 10th St., Santa Rosa, CA 95401.