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Flores made a habit of cashing his check and separating the money into little piles for groceries, the mortgage, and the phone bill, and laying them out on the dresser. Each week, his stay-at-home wife took the grocery pile to feed their four children. Today, they're doing alright for themselves. Flores was lucky enough to buy a few small properties before the boom, and rents them to UC Berkeley students. There's something hopeful about this man, with his intense work ethic, communitarian spirit, rigid traditionalism, and the avidity with which he thrusts these qualities at you.
"We got two teenagers, one seventeen, one sixteen," he says. "And we haven't had any trouble with them -- drugs, tattoos, negative things. I always talk to them, you know, 'You don't need drugs, you don't need negative things on your body to feel good.'" Flores still thinks of his old manager at the Caffe Med and tries to emulate his values as he raises his children. "A man needs to have a family," he says. "A man with no family is nothing."
When Flores was laid off by the foundry eleven months ago, he started thinking about opening a business. Now, he says, he has his plan all figured out. His brothers, children, and wife will work the registers and stockrooms, his rental properties will pay the bills, and his family will eat by raiding the store's supply room. And 23rd Street, he believes, is just begging for the kind of business he will offer. He says Mexican shoppers are looking for a certain human intimacy, a richer commercial experience than the one found at sterile, fluorescent supermarkets. He hopes to offer San Pablo's new residents a more familiar kind of store.
"We, the Hispanic, like to talk to people direct," he says. As he explains, he jumps to his feet and strides around the room, pointing at imaginary produce. "Direct communication, like, 'How much those tomatoes? How much these onions, how much those chiles? I don't like those, they're too old -- you have fresh ones?' 'Oh yes, I have a box in the back.' You know? They like the direct communication. 'I like this meat -- could you slice it a little thinner?' Or, 'I like that with a little lard, uh, fat on the side.' See? ... Human contact, yes. They don't want to go to the shelf and grab what they want. They want you to grab it for them. That's who we are."
And he has one more card to play. Thanks to his years at Caffe Mediterraneum, Flores has a knack for gourmet coffee. He's convinced that Hispanics sick of the pisswater sold at ghetto doughnut shops will swarm his place for some quality espresso. Gourmet coffee on a street that can't even support one bank? Maybe he's just a damn fool. Or maybe he'll end up bringing a bit of the white-collar Bay Area to blue-collar San Pablo. If he pulls it off, Flores will have done his part to bring San Pablo into the Bay Area's yuppie orbit, to fuse its immigrant energy with the sensibility and palate of the rest of the region. Maybe these two worlds won't seem so distinct ten years from now.
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