Rojas, better known by his customers as “Manny” or “Don Manuel,” was the creator of the Hollenbeck Burrito and Manuel’s Special— burritos so big they are often shared— and was loved by the East Los Angeles community and beyond.
Friends and customers of Rojas took to Facebook and Twitter to express their condolences and posted photos of their time with him.
“Thanks for creating the best burrito in the world!! Your legacy will live on forever in our hearts and stomachs. Farewell Manuel,” commented Fred Kelder on our Facebook page.
“OMG, rest in peace. You were such a “character.” Thanks for the great food and candy to go,” posted Anna Ruiz.
“A big loss to the community and his Family R.I.P. Manuel Rojas,” added Robert Chavez.
Such a sad day in the history of Boyle Heights. Manuel from El Tepeyac has passed away…. :/
— seabas.(@seabas_) February 13, 2013
I remember going to El Tepeyac and Manuel the owner would give us free shots of tequila
— LOS DOYERS (@losdoyers) February 13, 2013
According to family members, Rojas was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and underwent treatment last year. In August, the cancer reappeared in his throat and had spread to several respiratory organs.
“I literally have no words… it’s the saddest day of my life,” said Rojas’ granddaughter Mirella Campos, 18.
Cooks quietly served up five-pound wet burritos and waitresses tended to a handful of late diners.
Campos greeted customers as best she could, but spoke about her loss with tears in her eyes.
“He was my king, my dad, my everything,” she said.
Campos is the latest generation in the family to work at the Boyle Heights landmark, which opened its doors in 1952. Today, it’s not unusual to see a line of customers wrap around the establishment.
Some have grown old visiting the restaurant, calling Rojas a friend, confidant, even a husband, says Campos.
“When we drive around, my grandpa and I, here in Boyle Heights… he’s honking at everyone, waving like he’s royalty,” said Campos. “ ‘Mija, I’m a movie star,’ he would say.”
Others have travel across the city, state and country—either for the burritos or to meet the man who greets them with a smile, a joke and a tequila shot.