OAKLAND -- A restaurateur who started with nothing and became a prominent and beloved figure in the Fruitvale business community was shot and killed Friday at the business where he made his name.
Jesus "Chuy" Campos was shot at 5:36 a.m. outside the 39th Avenue service entrance to Otaez Mexicatessen, a restaurant on International Boulevard that he and his wife opened about 25 years ago. The gunman fled before police arrived.
Campos, 59, who lived in a house just a few yards from the restaurant, was at the business early, as he was every morning, to help with preparations for a 6 a.m. breakfast serving. Police believe his assailant was trying to rob him.
News of Campos' death sent shock waves through the Fruitvale community, where he had served as president of the Fruitvale Merchants Association and was active in business and cultural affairs.
Dozens of relatives and friends came to the Campos residence to provide comfort to his wife and children. Among them was City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, who has known Campos since 1978.
The politician first met Campos when Campos was a foundry worker in San Leandro and De La Fuente was his union representative. De La Fuente said that the company fired Campos when he left to attend to his ailing father in Mexico but that he eventually got Campos his job back with back pay.
It was that money that Campos and his wife, Socorro, used to open their restaurant on International Boulevard in 1986, when there was just a handful of Mexican restaurants in the Fruitvale district. The family opened a second, bigger Otaez restaurant in Alameda in 2006 and a third branch inside the Oakland International Airport last year.
"It was always Campos' dream to have a restaurant, not just for himself, but to build a business for his family," De La Fuente said. "It was an unbelievable story. He went from nothing, not even speaking English, to owning a block.
"And for it to end this way is just not right. People don't have any respect for human life. We have to get these people off the street."
Campos, who came from the town of Autlan de la Grana in the Mexican state of Jalisco, arrived in the United States decades ago with dreams of a better life. He met his future wife when they were both working at the same Fruitvale restaurant, Chichen, in the early 1970s.
"He was a cook," said sister-in-law Carmen Flores. "She was a server who liked to cook."
He moved on to work at other restaurants and other jobs, but the couple wanted to start a business of their own. They found that in Otaez, a family-run restaurant that became a local institution.
On Friday morning, Campos was beginning what was his daily routine. Family members say he would wake up shortly after 5 a.m. each weekday, walk the short distance to the brightly-painted restaurant and unlock the door so that workers could begin their preparations. Then, he would drive to his ranch in the Palomares Canyon south of Castro Valley, feed the animals and pour himself a cup of pajarete -- a drink usually made of fresh milk, chocolate, coffee and a dash of alcohol. He would return to Oakland to pick up his grandson and take him to school and would be back at Otaez by 10 a.m., spending most of the day at the restaurant until it closed at 9 p.m.
"This was his baby," niece Sandra Flores said of the business. "He was always here. He was always in a good mood."
News of the shooting quickly spread through the Fruitvale community Friday morning, confirming fears about violence that many said they have been voicing to city officials for months and years.
"Any time a tragedy like this happens, it rocks everybody to their core," said Gilda Gonzales, chief executive of the Unity Council, a community development organization serving the Spanish-speaking community.
Just after noon, dozens of Fruitvale merchants crowded into a neighboring restaurant, El Huarache Azteca, which was the original site of Otaez, to air their concerns to Mayor Jean Quan, De La Fuente and other officials.
"This community feels they have been targeted, especially the small merchants, especially the street vendors," De La Fuente said after a brief but emotional gathering that was closed to the media.
"Quan said she's going to put more patrol in the district, more walking officers," said longtime Fruitvale merchant Emilia Otero, who attended the meeting. "We're all kind of scared."
Sandra Flores said her uncle "has been robbed two or three times before, but nothing bad happened to him until this time."
Quan had met with Campos during a walking tour of the neighborhood on April 2 and had talked with him about his concerns about crime in the area, her aides said. Quan and Police Chief Anthony Batts also met with a group of merchants on Wednesday at La Estrellita restaurant in the Eastlake district about the same concerns.
The merchants who gathered at the corner of 39th Avenue and International on Friday morning were there to express their frustrations, but also to mourn and pay their respects to an influential figure and friend. Gonzales said Campos and his family have been leaders who have helped make Fruitvale's International Boulevard a thriving business district.
"He's just been very instrumental in providing leadership for the other merchants in the community," she said. "He has always opened the doors for political meetings, community meetings, events. It's always been a place where people could come together and work together. It's more than a restaurant."
Crime against local merchants has ebbed and flowed over the years, Gonzales said.
"We as a community are calling on the Police Department to expend whatever resources needed to bring whoever is responsible to justice," she said. "This insanity has to end."
Quan had previously scheduled a town-hall meeting in the Fruitvale on Saturday, one of several happening throughout the city. The meeting is still scheduled to happen from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at St. Jarlath's School, 2634 Pleasant St. Some merchants said Friday they would also like to hold a peace march at the same time.
Campos is survived by his wife, two adult children and three grandchildren.
Police are searching for two suspects, who fled the scene in a gray four-door automobile, possibly a 2000 Buick Regal with standard rims.
Nine hours into the investigation, Batts said he wants more resources to crack down on robberies and prostitution in the Fruitvale district and the police department has asked BART to respond to problems at the Fruitvale station.
Fruitvale merchants are putting up $20,000 in reward money for information leading to the gunman's arrest and Quan had asked Gov. Jerry Brown for as much as $40,000 as well. Police and Crime Stoppers of Oakland are also offering up to $10,000 in reward money. Anyone with information may call police at 510-238-3821 or Crime Stoppers at 510-777-8572 or 510-777-3211.