By Nancy Rubin
Bay Area native Willy Perez (Berkeley High, class of 1995) knows two things well: cars and food. Summoning inspiration from his love of restoring vintage cars, specifically his 1961 Chevy Impala convertible, Perez began to picture a place that expressed the loyalty of true vintage car culture mixed with the essence of his mother’s savory Mexican spices he knew growing up.
Thus was born the idea of Guacamole 61, whose name was, of course, inspired by his beloved car. The diminutive take-out restaurant opened this week at Epicurious Garden in North Berkeley. It took over the space from the short-lived Herb n’ Chicken, which itself was preceded by Source Mini. It’s not the first time the kitchen has served up Mexican dishes: Picoso Taqueria occupied the spot before Flavor Mediterranean Food, which was itself replaced by Source Mini.
It’s not the first Berkeley restaurant venture for Perez, either. He was one of the group, along with Artemio Maldonado and Dwight Ferron — all former Cheese Board alums — that opened Sliver in January 2013, the popular pizza destination on Center Street in downtown Berkeley.
Perez marries his passion for good food and vintage cars with a devotion to restoring human lives. Over the years, he has developed strong relationships with organizations that combat human trafficking and the rehabilitation of children sold into slavery — some of which is happening in our own backyard. He plans to continue the fight against this global epidemic with the opening of Guacamole 61 by giving a percentage of the restaurant’s profits to local non-profits that are out on the streets combatting human trafficking. These include BAWAR (Bay Area Women Against Rape), which was launched in Berkeley.
Sliver had the same goal. When it opened, a sign it its window read: “To use the freshest and finest quality ingredients on our pizza as a means of promoting human health and empowering the fight against human trafficking around the world.”
One of Perez’s partners at Guacamole 61, Gustavo “Tavo” Orozco, was born and raised in Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan, Mexico. When he was just 7-years’ old, he sold “fruita picada” on the street to his neighbors and passing cars. After he came to the United States, Orozco’s entrepreneurial drive led him to open up his own Mexican restaurant at the age of 19. Now, as head chef of Guacamole 61, he plans to incorporate the flavor and spirit of the dishes he remembers from home into the new restaurant’s menu. He said he will be using local and seasonal ingredients — as one would expect from a Gourmet Ghetto eatery.
Guacamole 61 is at Epicurious Garden, 1511 Shattuck Ave. Epicurious Garden is celebrating its 10th anniversary this Sunday. The event will include live music, cooking demonstrations and free samples: Sunday, March 20, 2-7 p.m.
New Berkeley pizza spot has philanthropic goal (01.14.13)
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