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At Christmastime, Restaurateur Tony Arroyo Serves the Homeless

Owner of Los Arroyos was homeless when he first came to Santa Barbara as a teenager

Each year at Christmastime, Santa Barbara restaurateur Tony Arroyo donates holiday meals to the homeless.
Each year at Christmastime, Santa Barbara restaurateur Tony Arroyo donates holiday meals to the homeless. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Tony Arroyo isn't Santa Claus, but every year at Christmas, he shares something special out of the goodness of his heart.

Arroyo, the owner of Los Arroyos Mexican restaurant, feeds dozens of women and children who live in their recreational vehicles.

He provides the meals for Beatitudes Safe Parking Outreach Christmas Dinner in early December, straight from the kitchen of his popular eatery.

"It must be hard for people who are sleeping in their cars, while we are at home sleeping in our beds," Arroyo said. 

The dinner is part of the Safe Parking Program in Santa Barbara, under the umbrella of New Beginnings Counseling Center. It allows people to legally park in their cars in designated lots from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Arroyo's staff prepared and served an array of food out of his kitchen — tacos, salad, rice and beans, chips, guacamole and other food items.

"For many of the women, this is their only Christmas," said Francie Monk, co-coordinator of the Safe Parking Outreach Program, in partnership with the Santa Barbara Safe Parking Program and the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes. "It makes a huge difference.

"Tony does it quietly and very generously.  It makes a huge difference when someone like Tony offers this kind of gift —without fanfare.  

For Arroyo, the generosity comes easy. He knows what people are experiencing. 

"I know how it feels because I have been in that situation," Arroyo said. "I was homeless when I came to this country."

Arroyo came to Santa Barbara when he was 14 years old and experience kindness. Every Wednesday at 7 a.m., nuns gave him a sandwich and an apple or orange.

He came from Michoacan, Mexico, with a dream to open a restaurant. He lived in a garage and cleaned bathrooms to make money.

As he got older, he worked two or three jobs at a time. He worked as a dishwasher and prep cook at the Red Lyon Inn, the Four Seasons Biltmore, Frimples, Castagnolas and others before starting Los Arroyos in 1999, inside 450 square feet on Figueroa Street. 

He began with two employees and now employs more than 100 people.

He has since opened restaurants in Montecito, Camarillo and Reno, Nevada.

"I love the restaurant business," Arroyo said. "I love building a business. I love to see smiles on customers' faces."

Arroyo used to work 16- and 17-hour days at the restaurant, but now you can sometimes find his son, Diego, working behind the counter at the restaurant. Arroyo said he appreciates all the help people have given him over the years so it's his job to give it back.

"Santa Barbara is a very special place," Arroyo said. 

Judy Foreman, a friend of Arroyo, said he is a philanthropist. 

"I'm not at all surprised with his compassion to those less fortunate," Foreman said. "When he came to this country, he slept on a bench at the Greyhound bus station so he really understands what it is like to be homeless."

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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