By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group East Bay
A west Berkeley grocery store owner was robbed of $30,000 in cash outside his store Thursday, a crime that puts his business on shaky ground and has him questioning his faith in giving back to the community.
|Mi Tierra Foods owner Jesus Mendez was robbed at gunpoint of $30,000 cash outside his Berkeley store and check cashing business on Thursday, an act that has shaken his faith in giving back to the community. (Photo by Doug Oakley)|
When at-risk youth came looking for a wall on which to paint a mural, Jesus Mendez, owner of Mi Tierra Foods on San Pablo Avenue, offered his. When local schools like Nia House, Rosa Parks Elementary School, Willard Middle School and Berkeley High School have fundraisers, Mendez gives money. He gives money to the south and west Berkeley senior centers.
So when two men stuck a gun in his face as he was returning from a nearby Wells Fargo with cash for his store's check cashing operation, the pain went deep.
"It makes me really angry that these people on the street are able to walk away with years of work, especially when we try so much to help out the community," Mendez said Friday, surrounded by his wife and son who help run the business. "Whenever there is a fundraiser, we help out. All the customers who come in here asking for donations for their groups, we give it."
Even though Berkeley police arrived on the scene about a minute after Mendez called 911, the robbers were already gone. No one has been arrested.
Mendez's wife was born and raised in Berkeley, where he has lived for 35 years. His store has been at the corner of San Pablo Avenue and Addison Street for more than 10 years, selling Mexican groceries, offering fresh-cooked tacos and burritos, and cashing checks for people in the neighborhood.
"This wiped me out," Mendez said. "We have insurance, but not enough to cover it, so it's going to be a hardship for us to maintain the same level of service here."
Mendez said he charges $2 to $3 to cash a check, so he's not making much money from people who don't have bank accounts and come to him on payday.
Mendez said he drove his car from the bank to the parking lot behind his store Thursday morning, and he thinks the robbers may have followed him.
While he's thankful he didn't do anything brash like fighting with the robbers, which could have gotten him shot, Mendez said it still feels like he got hurt.
"I was just looking down the barrel of the gun, and it was very scary," Mendez said. "They cleaned me out. They took everything I had to work with."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.