By Claire Harlin
Sisters Catalina “Liza” Salgado and Teresa Rincon were born in the building that stands at 621 Valley Ave. in Solana Beach, and for more than seven decades, they’ve spent most of their waking hours there.
Most people in the community, however, have for generations known the location as a go-to spot for turkey tacos and chile rellenos, a place to convene after a Little League game or to go out with the family for Mexican food.
The much-embraced Tony’s Jacal was not only one of Solana Beach’s first restaurants when it opened 66 years ago, but it’s a staple in Eden Gardens — not only for its menu but for its community involvement. Continuing with the legacy left by their parents, Tony and Catalina Gonzalez, owners Salgado and Rincon don’t think twice when it comes to helping their neighbors — whether that means cooking for events at the local schools, lending their space to non-profits or sponsoring sports teams.
“Our dad was poor growing up as a kid and so when he had the money he did whatever he could to help,” said Rincon, who works well over 50 hours a week at the restaurant.
Perhaps the biggest act of kindness by the Tony’s Jacal family, however, has been ongoing for 42 years and resulted in more that $1 million in scholarships that have helped local Mexican American youth attend college. Catalina Gonzalez was one of a few community leaders that provided the financial backing to start the Mexican American Educational Guidance Association (MAEGA), and Rincon and Salgado will be honored on Nov. 10, from 6-8 p.m. at the Encinitas Senior and Community Center in a tribute event recognizing their longtime efforts to keep their parents’ generosity alive.
“I don’t feel like it’s even our award,” said Rincon. “It’s really for our mom.”
Anna Vallez, MAEGA’s president, would beg to differ, however. She said the sisters are hardworking and incredibly humble. For them, she said, feats of kindness are routine and they seek nothing in return.
The sisters still donate their space to MAEGA, which gave $91,000 in scholarships last year for all of the organization’s fundraising dinners, and at one event — held each year on the last Tuesday of the Del Mar horse races — the restaurant donates its profits. Vallez also said that Salgado, who handles all of the restaurant’s bookkeeping, offers both her energy and resources to prepare and help serve food for hundreds at an annual barbecue fundraiser while Rincon is busy at the restaurant.
“Their presence is huge,” Vallez said.
While the ladies may not be big on taking credit, their goodwill and significance in the community shows — even through the restaurant itself. Walking into the front entryway of Tony’s Jacal, one might notice that the walls are covered with rows and rows of framed photos of Little League teams the family has sponsored.
“Our dad was the first one to start a Little League team in the area,” said Rincon, adding that the restaurant still sponsors both soccer and baseball teams, as well as Torrey Pines High School football. “People come in and show their grandchildren when they used to play for Tony’s Jacal.”
Rincon said that for decades, beginning in the 1950s, the restaurant gave the Little League kids a free meal every time they won a game.
“We had to stop that, though, because the other teams said it wasn’t fair,” said Rincon. “Everyone wanted to play for Tony’s Jacal.”
Tony’s Jacal has customers who have been eating there regularly since day one and families who have had their yearly Christmas dinner at Tony’s Jacal every year for generations. They hold wedding rehearsals almost every weekend, and they lend their parking lot to the small, private Keystone Academy school in the mornings so the kids will have outdoor space for physical education.
It doesn’t stop there. Local families may have seen Salgado out at a recent elementary school Halloween Carnival serving up Mexican food, or you may have eaten Tony’s Jacal fare at school events like parents’ night or open house, which they often provide food for. Sometimes nonprofits hold rummage sales on the premises on Saturdays before the restaurant opens.
“We don’t really think much about it,” said Rincon. “Any organization that comes in and they are going to have some sort of a function they always ask and we donate dinner gifts for raffle prizes and that kind of thing.”
Both ladies remember working at the restaurant when it first opened. Salgado was 8 years old and Rincon was 7. Rincon said she remembers sweeping the dining room after school, and as they got older the two would take turns babysitting their younger brother and sister and helping out at the restaurant while their parents also worked.
Not much has changed. Salgado has enjoyed somewhat of a retirement, but still manages the restaurant’s finances, and Rincon is on the premises every day, working in all roles of the restaurant team.
“I’m always go, go, go, and I never get tired,” she said. “I never sit, only when I have my dinner, which is for about a half an hour.”
Salgado chimed in, “And you should see her house. It’s spic and span, no dirt. It’s clean, clean, clean.”
When it comes to running the kitchen, Salgado said it’s maintaining the tradition of her parents that has kept people coming back and led to their continued success.
“There’s no shortcuts, no nothing,” she said. “Everything has to be done exactly the same.”
Rincon said sometimes people who used to lived in the area return after several decades, and they are surprised at the major changes Solana Beach has seen over the years.
“They see all this commercial development and when they get here they can’t even believe we are still here and that it still looks the same,” she said. “When they come in they look at me and say, ‘Wow, you’re still here!’ and when they eat they say the food even tastes the same.”
The two work in the spirit of their parents, continuing the legacy and treating each dish and each customer “the way mom would have done,” Salgado said.
“We never have thought of ourselves as business partners,” she said. “We’re just family doing things together that need to be done.”
To reach Tony’s Jacal, call (858) 755-2274; www.tonysjacal.com. For more information on MAEGA and the Nov. 10 tribute event, visit www.maega.org.