For many years, Rafael “Ray” Vega made the rounds within the brick-lined eating room of Casa Vega restaurant in Sherman Oaks, dressed sharply in a sweater vest with a reputation tag mounted to the entrance.
“Hello, I am Ray Vega and that is Casa Vega,” he would say. He usually hosted Marlon Brando, Cary Grant, George Clooney, Al Pacino and different actors and studio executives, who sipped margaritas, tucked into the restaurant’s signature tufted crimson leather-based cubicles.
Vega, who helped introduce and popularize Mexican meals within the San Fernando Valley, died from problems of COVID-19 on Saturday at age 86, in accordance with his daughter, Christina “Christy” Vega. He had been battling dementia and Parkinson’s illness for the previous 15 years.
Vega got here from a household decided to be within the restaurant enterprise. Born in Nationwide Metropolis, Calif., on Aug. 27, 1934, Vega’s grandmother and pregnant mom drove from their residence in Tijuana to a hospital within the U.S. to have the infant.
Shortly after he was born, Vega’s mother and father, Maria and Rafael, left Vega in Tijuana together with his grandmother and immigrated to Los Angeles, the place they opened Cafe Caliente restaurant on Olvera Avenue. When Vega was 2 they moved him to the household residence in Burbank, alongside together with his older sister Frances, who acted as his nanny.
Vega grew up on the restaurant, spending a lot of his childhood on Olvera Avenue. He attended a Catholic navy faculty in Orange County and John Burroughs Excessive College in Burbank, the place he was on the soccer workforce. He moved to the Bay Space to review hospitality at San Francisco State College however after a 12 months moved again to Los Angeles to assist his household.
After a profitable 18-year run, Rafael and Maria closed Cafe Caliente and opened one other Mexican restaurant in Hollywood.
“Mexicans weren’t that welcome outdoors of downtown and the enterprise went below in 4 years,” Christy mentioned.
At 22, Vega bought a job promoting life insurance coverage to assist assist the household, however he by no means gave up on his mother and father’ dream of working eating places. He discovered somebody to mortgage him the cash for a couple of months’ hire at a restaurant area on Ventura Boulevard, two blocks from the place Casa Vega now stands.
He opened Casa Vega in 1956 and put each his mother and father to work. Rafael was the lead bartender, whereas Maria helped train the cooks to make her recipes for cheese enchiladas and mole poblano. Frances got here to work as a hostess.
The restaurant shortly outgrew its unique location, and Vega moved to a bigger area on the nook of Ventura Boulevard and Fulton Avenue. He credited a fateful go to from Jane Fonda and Gig Younger because the catalyst that turned the restaurant into one in all Hollywood royalty’s favourite haunts. Quickly, Cary Grant and Dyan Cannon got here in, adopted by a slew of different celebrities. One in every of Vega’s favourite tales to inform was in regards to the evening Christy was born.
“My dad went again to the restaurant to share the excellent news with everybody and Marlon Brando was there,” she mentioned. ‘They drank a bottle of 1800 Tequila collectively.”
Within the Nineteen Seventies and ’80s, Vega spent most nights within the Casa Vega eating room, clearing tables, bringing individuals extra chips and speaking to prospects. He met his spouse, Charleen, within the restaurant’s bar in 1976.
“His favourite factor to do was be there at evening when it was full,” Christy mentioned. “My dad revered the native Valley neighbor simply as a lot as any celeb.”
Vega was civic-minded as nicely. Within the late ’60s, he bought concerned with native politics, serving because the commissioner of the Los Angeles Division of Public Social Companies for 2 years, adopted by a seven-year stint as chairman of the L.A. County Housing Authority. Quickly, he secured authorities contracts to run the eating halls at a handful of presidency bases in California.
In 1978 he was given the chance to run the eating corridor at Nellis Air Pressure Base in Nevada. He left Frances accountable for Casa Vega and moved the household to Las Vegas.
Thus started the beginning of a decades-long profession within the distribution enterprise in Nevada below the identify Vega Enterprise. The company umbrella included a merchandising firm, a distribution firm and a wholesale firm that provided merchandising machines and merchandise to U.S. Air Pressure bases, casinos and 7-Elevens.
Within the ’80s, he began Vega Bar and Concessions, which bought liquor and bar provides. Between the late ’70s and the ’90s, Christy mentioned, Vega Enterprise was grossing greater than $60 million a 12 months. Vega acquired many awards throughout this time, however his most significant was his appointment as honorary consul common for Mexico to the state of Nevada in 1996.
However the restaurant enterprise was at all times calling. In 2000, Vega began to dump Vega Enterprise piece by piece and moved again to Los Angeles. He returned to Casa Vega, the place daughter Christy was already serving to to run the enterprise. She took over as president in 2012 however mentioned her dad visited the restaurant daily.
“We might have lunch and catch up, and it made him really feel good and soothed him,” Christy mentioned. By that point, her father had been recognized with dementia and Parkinson’s illness.
“Even on his deathbed, he wished to listen to about Casa Vega,” she mentioned.
Along with his spouse and daughter Christy, Vega is survived by daughter Kelly Schettler; son Robbie; granddaughters Emilee, Lizzy and Mia; and grandsons Jackson, Rafael Palmer, Ryan Jr. and Cruz.
This story initially appeared in Los Angeles Times.