Half Moon Bay restaurant supports longtime employee after his wife suffers a stroke

A restaurant employee in Half Moon Bay has had to miss work for the past few months after his wife suffered several strokes, but his restaurant family has stepped in to lend a helping hand.

Hector Cen has been working at Sam's Chowder House since it opened in 2006. In November, Cen's wife, Esther Huerta, suffered several strokes that left her unable to walk, speak or care for their children. That's when the team at Sam's Chowder House stepped in.

Julie and Paul Shenkman are the co-owners of Sam's.

"Hector is the sole provider for his family. He has an 11-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son with special needs," Julie Shenkman said. "We immediately thought, 'What can we do to help?"

They started with something basic that could have a huge impact. 

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Hector Cen and Esther Huerto with their children before Esther's strokes in November.  ((Photo courtesy of GoFundMe))

Julie Shenkman said paying rent would be one of their biggest obstacles.

"We thought: we'll start there and cover his rent for the foreseeable future," Shenkman said. 

The Shenkmans have a special place in their hearts for the challenges that Cen is facing. Their son Sam Shenkman, whom the restaurant is named for, also has special needs.

"We've spent Sammy's lifetime trying to provide that, so we know what Hector is experiencing," Julie Shenkman said. 

The Shenkmans say they are grateful to be in a position to help.

"It was a very special feeling because we understand what he has to go through," Paul Shenkman told KTVU.

This isn't the first time the staff at Sam's have banded together to support one of their own. KC Lucido has been working at Sam's for 14 years.

"It's not surprising. I've experienced my own tragedy, and not only Sam's Chowder House but the whole Half Moon Bay came together for me, and I'm so happy to see that they are doing it for Hector," Lucido said.

Lucido lost her daughter seven years ago. She said the team at Sam's kept her health insurance paid up and food in her family's fridge.

"We're all a big family. We've all watched all of our kids grow up together. He would bring his daughter to see my son play basketball, so we are not only coworkers, we are like family," Lucido said. 

Sam's also brought attention to Esther's GoFundMe page, which has raised more than $20,000 so far. Cen said Esther has a long road ahead of her, but she is slowly improving.

"It's not easy, but I'm doing a little bit better. And she's doing better every day...Thank you everyone for helping my family," Cen said.