Photo Gallery: Los Angeles remembers Manny Rojas
MONTEBELLO — Thousands of family, friends, and those he fed at his Boyle Height restaurant celebrated the life of Manuel Rojas Tuesday, with music, stories and tequila.
Mourners filled the 2,500-seat Calvary Chapel Montebello to capacity to say goodbye to Rojas, who created the Hollenbeck and the five-pound Manny Special burritos, which were immortalized on TV and publications, and were enjoyed by generations of food lovers.
He died after a two-year battle with cancer on Feb. 12, at the age of 79.
“He was a small man with a huge personality,” family members said of their patriarch.
“How could you not be enamored of Manny,” Pastor Sam Gamboa asked those in attendance. “He was an icon of the community.”
He recalled meeting Rojas in the 1960s at the small roadside eatery that has been profiled on TV and publications.
“I never saw a man who got to kiss so many women in front of their husbands, and got away with it,” Gamboa said.
Nephew Joe Duran, who was Rojas' business partner, led a toast for all the pallbearers, who gathered around the American flag-draped casket, with tequila shots in hand.
“To Uncle Manuel, the godfather of Boyle Heights; we send you to God with much love and sadness,” he proclaimed, before downing the shot.
Several family members, including daughters Elena Rojas and Monique Lopez, and son Manny Rojas, talked about the strength and love Manuel Rojas showed them and his community.
“He loved everybody so much,” Elena Rojas said. “He was so happy all the time.
She trusted that those who came in touch with her father, an Army veteran of the Korean War, took something from the experience.
“I hope you all got something from knowing him to take and live your lives,” Elena Rojas said.
She assured the mourners that her father fought the good fight against cancer, and that his faith strengthened him in the face of his mortality.
“He always said, ‘When you put your life in the Lord's hands, you'll be alright,'” she recalled.
A number of Rojas' grandchildren talked about how they will miss listening to his stories.
They bragged that it would take days to repeat all of them.
Most of all, they said, their grandfather had the kindest heart.
Rojas, who took over the restaurant after the deaths of his father, Salvador, in the mid-50s, and then his mother, Rebeca, was generous with his time and money.
He supported several organizations, such as the Optimist Club, the Rotary Club, sports leagues and area high schools.
A former boxer, Rojas remained a lifelong boxing fan, and supported the early careers of Olympic boxers Paul Gonzalez and Oscar De La Hoya, who went on to hold multiple world titles.
“He's irreplaceable, unforgettable,” granddaughter Maria Campos said.
Grandson Mario Campos Jr. called Rojas, “the epitome of love.”
The service also included a video montage of Rojas, depicting him as a child, a young man, and as the owner of El Tepeyac, wearing his paper hat and mingling with family, patrons and employees alike.
The last image was of a frail-looking Rojas speaking directly into the camera and saying, “I love you, go home.”
A burial service followed the ceremony at Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles.