Unsung Heroes – 2021

Unsung Heroes

By Tom Nussbaum

Tomas Rojas

Tomas Rowen Nicola Delangre Rojas

 

He works 65 hours a week at the restaurant. It seems like he’s always there. Always. But Café Negro is a family-owned restaurant and Tomas is the manager. And restaurant managers put in long hours.

Tomas Rowen Nicola Delangre Rojas didn’t always spend his days at the San Antonio landmark. He was too young when his mother founded the eatery 16 years ago. But a few years later, as a young teenager, he began participating in the family business, first as a busboy, then as a waiter, and eventually as manager.

The road to management, however, had a few bumps and sharp turns. Tomas took a detour. He dropped out of school at 14, which caused great tension between his mother and himself, and found himself making other poor choices in life and in friendships. By 16, no longer living with family, he invited several older acquaintances to move in with him to split costs. They proved to be more problematic than helpful. By 19, Tomas had recognized the errors he had made and redirected his life.

The fourth of six children, Tomas, with his easy smile (generally hidden now by COVID-masks), charm, and positivity, had always demonstrated a natural intelligence. It would come as no surprise, then, when he learned English by listening to restaurant customers, television, and video games. No classes or teachers were needed. He speaks without an accent, even mastering idioms and common colloquial phrases.

While two siblings live in the United States, Tomas has never been to the US. In fact, his travels are limited. The Chapala-born Tomas thinks the farthest he’s traveled has been to Puerto Vallarta. He, however, remembers as a young child dreaming of world travel. Today his goal is to visit Alaska. The cold and layers of clothing, he says, don’t scare him. But he admits he’s never experienced real cold and may be in for a surprise.

A doodler and drawer in his moments of free time, Tomas is intrigued by fantasy films like the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and Game of Thrones. He also has an interest in computer programming, but the restaurant and life have left him little time to pursue it.

A generally happy, positive person, Tomas finds his least favorite aspect of restaurant work is dish washing. But on the other hand, he is fascinated by the variety of people he has met through his work. “Whether they were extremely successful before they came here, or struggled through life, facing challenges and rough circumstances,” he observes, “they all have interesting stories and, for the most part, are decent people.”

He pauses. “For the most part,” he repeats. “Even the customers who throw food at me.” He is serious. Customers have pelted Tomas with food, usually for questionable reasons. He’s been hit, for example, with chunks of a disliked fruit from a fruit cup. Tomas shrugs his shoulders. “You wonder,” he adds with a laugh, “why they think that is OK. Were they teenage trouble-makers like me, only they never grew up?” 

On the other hand, some customers have even given Tomas the shirt off their back. Literally. Many of the tee-shirts and baseball caps he wears sport the names and logos of professional teams from his customers’ U.S. and Canadian hometowns. “They just give them to me, knowing I like them, and wanting to share their team pride with me,” he says.

Tomas has a girlfriend, Lupita. They’ve been together six years and live near the restaurant. Neither a wedding nor children are on the horizon, he points out rather quickly. That might be because Tomas knows making a marriage work and raising kids requires a lot more than 65 hours per week.

 

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For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com

 

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