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Frederick restaurant owner pays it forward

FREDERICK — Alejandro Lopez got by with a little help from his friends. Now the owner of Los Toltecos Mexican restaurant looks for ways to help others.

“You cannot do anything by yourself,” he said.

Lopez held a fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Frederick last month, donating 10 percent of the restaurant’s sales to the organization that matches mentors with children from single-parent families.

Lopez chose a mentoring organization because of how important mentors have been in his own life, he said.

“He expressed an interest initially in getting involved in the community,” said Michele Daiger, a publicist for the restaurant. “We came up with Big Brothers Big Sisters because of his situation, because of his mentor, because of how he feels about mentoring.”

Lopez hopes to continue the relationship and hold fundraisers once or twice a year.

Lopez moved to Frederick just under a year ago to open Los Toltecos, following the advice of his mentor and business partner, Angel Diaz.

Diaz encouraged Lopez to move to Frederick because it was bigger and more diverse than the Wisconsin town where the cousins were working together at a Mexican restaurant.

Diaz now lives in Virginia but works a few days a week at Los Toltecos. He taught Lopez a lot about the business side of running the restaurant.

“He’s really good with money. He’s a really organized person,” Lopez said. “He became that person who I can trust, who I can call.”

Lopez believed that his strengths were at the front of the house and in the kitchen, he said.

“A lot of times when you open a new restaurant, you have a lot of questions,” he said. Diaz was the one he could ask.

Lopez’s positive experience with Diaz and other mentors encouraged him to look for small daily opportunities to help by sharing his life experience, he said.

He gave an example of telling someone who was doing something “crazy” on his motorcycle to be more careful because Lopez was in a bad bike accident himself. He showed off deep scars on his forearm that he used to illustrate the lesson.

Lopez moved to the U.S. from Mexico in 1998. When he goes back to visit he sometimes sees young people begging. Instead of just handing them money, he will buy them a meal, he said. While they eat, they talk about life and he tries to set an example by talking about how he got ahead in the restaurant business.

He grew up in a lower-middle-class household with all the necessities but without luxury. He started working at a young age to be able to afford the bigger-ticket items he wanted, such as Nikes instead of cheaper shoes, he said.

When he can, Lopez shares with young people the lesson that hard work pays off.

“If I can do it, you can do it,” he said.

Here at home, Lopez tries to set a good example for his employees, he said.

“I like to mentor my employees and the people around me, and I let people mentor me, too.”