Santa Rosa restaurant owner helps the homeless with burrito

SANTA ROSA (KTVU) -- The owner of a Mexican restaurant in Santa Rosa is quietly making a name for himself by helping the needy.

He's helping the less fortunate by providing them with food -- and compassion.

"You want something to eat?" Sergio Ochoa asks a homeless man. "Chicken or beef?" 

Ochoa has owned El Patio for 20 years and the eatery, located in the 900 block of 4th Street, has sold a countless number of meals. He doesn't remember many of those but he says he remembers the ones he gives away. 

"He doesn't really talk about it," daughter Maria Ochoa said while serving customers at the downtown Santa Rosa restaurant. "He says he feels really peaceful and it's something he needs to do." 

El Patio is located across the street from a park that is very popular with homeless people. Other businesses may find it hard to live with the homeless population so close to their business.       

But Ochoa doesn't just live with it, he embraces it.  

"I don't know what I'd do without him," said Lynette Villa, a homeless woman who regularly visits the park. "He doesn't judge anybody. If we go in there and we're short some money, he doesn't care." 

When Ochoa looks across the street, he said he see people who could use a helping hand. So as he works six days a week, he actively looks for people in the park who are resting or passing by who could use a burrito.  

And his door is open to anyone who comes to the counter who may be a bit down on their luck.    

"You want chips and salsa?" he asks a homeless man. 

"Sure, thank you!" the homeless man replies.

Many homeless people say they feel welcome in Ochoa's restaurant. 

"There was one day when I couldn't make it to a meal," a man in the park said. "And they made me feel comfortable and hooked me up with some really good food."

Ochoa said he generally gives away about six burritos every day, not enough to hurt the restaurant's bottom line or attract a line.  But his generosity has grabbed the attention of paying customers, who have snapped pictures and posted them on social media. 

"We've seen him on several occasions, go over there, or someone comes in, and he feeds them," customer Rita Polley said. "He's just a loving man who cares about our town, and it doesn't matter who it is or what their situation is, he just cares about them."  

Ochoa also cares enough to put people to work.  A homeless man who got his first meal from Ochoa last month now has a job refinishing the restaurant's patio furniture.

"When I was in need he helped me," Ralph Easterling said while scraping paint off of tables. "And if he's in need, I help. That's the point of the deal to me."

Ochoa would much rather cook than talk about himself, but admits he'd like to see more kindness in the business community.    

"Maybe people can change," he said. "I know I did." 

Ochoa admits that he previously was indifferent to the homeless. But when he turned 50, he said he realized he had a loving family, thriving business and loyal customers but still wasn't happy. 

He says he decided to change, and start looking out for the less fortunate. Now he has "thank you" notes on his wall.          

But he's not looking for praise when he picks up a burrito and heads out the door. He just wants to offer nourishment and a little nurturing.  

"I appreciate it, thanks so much, " says the recipient of the chicken burrito. The last order off of Ochoa's grill usually goes to someone spending the night in the park.    

When he closes his eatery every night, Ochoa says he reflects on how much happier he is by making burritos and sharing them.

"I feel good (and) I feel good helping people," he said. "I feel something in me, that I had to do it, and there are a lot of people, who don't have money, and they're hungry."

By KTVU reporter Debora Villalon.