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Hawaii News | Incidental Lives

For son, family restaurant illustrates life’s priorities

Too often, the assumption by those blessed with both full-time employment and a growing family is that there is work and there is family and never the twain shall meet.

Not so for 30-year-old Isaac Sanchez of McCully, for whom work and family come together like fine “mole.”

“It’s all about family,” says Sanchez, whose family owns and operates the storied Azteca restaurant in Kaimuki. “We’re a family restaurant, and our customers are part of that family.”

Parents Domingo and Sara Sanchez immigrated to Hawaii in 1970 from Chilapa de Alvarez in Guerrero, Mexico. Domingo initially supported the family by working in construction. In 1986 he and Sara bought the already well-established Azteca restaurant from a family friend.

“As children we valued the time we had with them, because they worked a lot and it was difficult for them to get away,” Isaac Sanchez said. “But we appreciated it because we knew they were doing it all for us, so that we could enjoy advantages that they didn’t have when they were growing up.”

Sanchez, the second of Domingo and Sara’s three sons, says he enjoyed a typical local childhood growing up in Kaimuki and attending Kalani High School.

Working part time at Azteca, Sanchez also attended Kapiolani Community College, where he studied food service and hospitality and, later, information technology.

Still, the family business always loomed large in Sanchez’s mind. In 2004 he decided to devote his energies to learning all aspects of running the business.

Though small and relatively nondescript, the restaurant has survived the gentrification of the Kaimuki business district, bridging the bygone days of chop suey joints, dive bars and pool halls to the current age of yoga studios, bead stores and yogurt shops.

“We owe it all to the customers, who are just great people — and very loyal,” Sanchez says. “We just try to do our best for them.”

Sanchez says working shoulder to shoulder with his parents has heightened his appreciation of the long hours needed to keep the restaurant going. It’s also sharpened his resolve to be a good husband and father.

Sanchez and his wife, Colleen, a former classmate from Kalani, have two boys, 6-year-old Jacob and 4-yearold Joshua.

On most days, Sanchez will work an early shift at the restaurant, leave to pick up the boys from school and spend a few hours playing with them, then return to work the dinner shift. Fridays are reserved for pickup basketball in the morning and family time in the afternoon and evening. On Sundays the entire family gets together for breakfast and dinner.

Sanchez and his younger brother, Jay, hope to one day take over the family business.

“We may not have a lot of money, but we have something,” Sanchez said. “That’s why my dad came to the U.S. We probably don’t realize everything he and my mother had to go through, but we appreciate it.”

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