The Sushiholic

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Best Restaurant

Restaurant, business owners surprise North Scranton Mexican restaurant with donations

Jun. 18—SCRANTON — Tony Camacho’s dream came true when he opened his own restaurant. He never dreamed what visitors to El Buen Amigo would bring Thursday.

Each person through the door of the North Scranton restaurant came with donations — and hope for the restaurateur, who like many other business owners struggled during the pandemic.

Stephanie Decker, Lackawanna College associate vice president of social and economic impact, walked in first with a $1,000 check from the college’s final dinner service through its Rally for Restaurants program. Through the pandemic, the college provided its outdoor patio, kitchens, food and beverages to local restaurants at no cost. Proceeds from the dinner services went directly to the restaurants.

El Buen Amigo, known for freshly made corn tortillas, salsas, guacamole and tamales, hosted two nights at the college and was a runner-up for a final $10,000 prize. For consideration of the grand prize, restaurant owners submitted a video of what they would do with the money, and Camacho talked about overdue bills, necessary building repairs and the need for a proper sign. Online voters picked the 16th Ward on Penn Avenue to receive the grand prize, and the other restaurants each received $1,000.

Camacho, humbled and thankful for the $1,000, told Decker he would use the money to make a few repairs to the Tripp Street building. Decker asked him if more money would help, and then the next visitor entered.

Kyle Gilboy, chef at the 16th Ward, said he felt inspired by Camacho’s story and handed him a check for $2,000.

“We wanted to pay it forward,” Gilboy said. “It’s about community. We just want to help … It was a simple decision.”

Camacho put his head in his hands. Perhaps he could finally put a proper sign on the outside of the building.

“This is just so nice. Thank you and God bless,” said Camacho, born in Mexico and a Scranton resident for nearly two decades. He moved his large tortilla press from a small shop on Cedar Avenue to a full restaurant, offering both Mexican and Italian food, at 1016 Tripp St. two years ago.

Corrie Gaspar, a Lackawanna culinary student, and Alex Molfetas, owner of Center City Print in Scranton, walked in next.

Gaspar said she and her fellow students loved working with Camacho during Rally for Restaurants and decided they would take a collection and pay for a sign. When Molfetas learned of the students’ intent to use their own money, he decided to donate the sign.

Camacho shook his head in disbelief as Molfetas said he already measured for an 8-foot by 2-foot sign.

Decker then pulled the last check from her pocket — $2,310 from the Alter House, which also hosted a night at the Rally for Restaurants. When the owners of the South Abington Twp. restaurant learned about Camacho’s struggle, they tore up their check and asked Decker to make a check out to Camacho instead.

Camacho repeatedly said thank you. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“We hope you understand we are rooting for you,” Decker said. “You being here makes our restaurant culture better. We just love you.”

Camacho’s children sat in the dining room, and when his wife, Belen Pineda, walked out of the kitchen, he told her the news.

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve all these blessings,” Camacho said. “I just feel so happy now.”

Contact the writer: [email protected]; 570-348-9133; @hofiushallTT on Twitter.