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Restaurant to reopen

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"I feel horrible," said Carlos Aguilar. "I did not see any kind of conflict."

In a way, Aguilar, the owner of Salem's Senor Carlos Restaurant, blames himself for not recognizing personality conflicts that would cause two employees to murder another, before being quickly apprehended.

"Myself and my staff, we are still horrified," explained Aguilar. "We are trying to deal with it the best way we can but we will never get over it."

On Monday, Oct. 25, state police investigators ordered the Senor Carlos Restaurant closed. Manager Pablo Gonzalez had told them a kitchen worker, Diego Villonueva, had murdered a co-worker, Jesus Meza, the night before in the restaurant kitchen and Gonzalez admitted he, too, was involved.

That night, all employees were taken to the Fulton County Sheriff's Department for questioning. Gonzalez and Villonueva gave full confessions and are now jailed, awaiting trial.

The restaurant has remained closed since Oct. 25 and, at first, owner Carlos Aguilar decided it would never re-open.

"I did not have the stomach to smile and be nice," said Aguilar, "And my employees did not either."

But, Aguilar has decided permanently closing the restaurant would be a disservice to his friend, Jesus Meza.

"He was my employee for four years. He worked hard, sent money to his family in Mexico and saved enough money to request to be a partner in the next restaurant we opened," remembers Aguilar.

Aguilar, who also owns Mexican restaurants in Ash Flat and Pocahontas, favored opening a new restaurant in Truman, a bigger city on a major highway.

But Meza liked Salem.

"Salem people were always eating in Ash Flat and asking us to open in Salem," said Aguilar. "Jesus came here and really fell in love with Salem. He said it was a quiet, family town and he pushed for it."

While he was a co-owner of the new business which opened last summer, Meza was a quiet man who did not speak fluent English. So, he and Aguilar agreed they needed to hire a manager who could deal with the public.

Pablo Gonzalez, an outgoing, talkative man from Illinois was hired and the restaurant got off to a good start and continued to prosper.

"Jesus was right," said Aguilar. "It was doing better than I thought it would do and I thought our partnership would last for a long time."

Aguilar decided to re-open the restaurant because Meza, "Was the one behind it. We don't want the restaurant to disappear."

Aguilar hopes to re-open this week.

If customers return and continue to support the restaurant, Aguilar intends to set aside Meza's portion of the profits and regularly send the money to his family, which is very poor and struggling to get by in Mexico.

"I worry about how people are going to respond to what happened," said Aguilar, acknowledging that some people will not want to return to the restaurant where a murder occurred.

Aguilar has been in contact with the state restaurant inspector and says the business will be throughly cleaned and sanitized and inspected before re-opening.

"We will give it a try for two or three weeks," said Aguilar, to determine whether business will return.

Aguilar admits one problem will be the fact that Pablo Gonzalez, the entertaining manager who allegedly planned the murder and hired the accused murderer, will not be there to greet customers.

"I have had people tell me how, since meeting Pablo at the restaurant, they have started looking at Mexicans differently," said Aguilar. "People really liked him."

Others, Aguilar added, find it hard to believe Gonzalez was involved in the murder. They say, "There's no way. Pablo would not hurt a fly."

According to Aguilar, Gonzalez hired Diego Villonueva, the 19-year-old who allegedly killed Meza for $200.

"I never met the boy," said Aguilar. "I was told he always talked tough and was always looking for ways to make money, but he did not cause any trouble in the restaurant, that I know of."

Aguilar said he will never understand why Gonzalez and Villonueva, killed Meza, on Sunday, Oct. 24. Just a few days earlier, they had helped Meza move to a new place to live.

"I went to the restaurant regularly," said Aguilar. "Usually, if there are problems or conflicts at one of my restaurants, employees will call me aside and tell me. In Salem, everyone seemed calm and happy. I am sorry to say there had to be one crazy one in the bunch."

Aguilar says, initially, he will make the trip from his home in Walnut Ridge to manage the Salem restaurant. The cook and some employees will return and he will hire others.

What do Salem citizens think about the reopening?

In a courthouse office, one worker said, "I hope they re-open but it may be a little too soon."

A co-worker quickly disagreed saying, "I think the longer they stay closed, the harder it will be to get people to come back."

At the bakery on the square, a Senor Carlos fan commented, "Some people have told me they would never eat there again, but I certainly will and I think a lot of others will too."

Aguilar says it is only right that the public decide the restaurant's future.

"If people want us, then they have to support us," said Aguilar. "If they don't, I will understand and move on."

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I hope the public will support this restaurant. There are bad apples everywhere--it happened to be a Mexican bad guy. Most people of Mexican origin I know are hard-working people who just want to work and avoid trouble. My hat is off to this owner Carlos Aguilar who is trying to help Meza's family back in Mexico. This man was working hard to support his family back in Mexico and some dirtbag kills him for no apparent reason.

-- Posted by conventional1 on Fri, Nov 12, 2010, at 4:11 PM

i so wish for them to reopen,, i hate that all this has happened, but lets support this,, its a nice place to eat and its close to home...

-- Posted by steelwoman on Fri, Nov 12, 2010, at 5:55 PM

yea, i'll eat there.

i think they would get more customers if they rename the place

casa de pistola

senior carlos

fine mexican restaurant

-- Posted by sentinel on Mon, Nov 15, 2010, at 1:55 AM

We are not that far from Juarez are we? Am I really reading that we have ILLEGAL ALIENS running a business, sending money back home to Mexico and now Arkansans are going to pay not only to prosecute but also pay for the defense of an ILLEGAL ALIEN in a murder trial? Down the road, at the trial, we will have 12 people not be able to go to work to feed their families because they have to do their "civic duty" by sitting on a jury before we pay to incarcerate this illegal alien for the rest of his life. Are you kidding me? Yeah, lets all go eat there.

-- Posted by Hardyite on Mon, Nov 15, 2010, at 7:17 PM

Hardyite - THis is the first I've heard that anyone is an illegal alien. Is this a true statement? I would think the INS would be all over this especially in a murder investigation.

-- Posted by hogwild67 on Fri, Nov 19, 2010, at 7:33 PM

I would feel strange eating in a place where a murder had happened...I`m sure there are plenty of other buildings in Salem that are now vacant where they could relocate..the square must have a restaurant vacant.....maybe the city could help them relocate......

-- Posted by keborne on Wed, Nov 24, 2010, at 3:31 AM

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