Esteban Gonzalez was 55 when he passed away from pneumonia in relation to COVID-19 on January 12. The tragic news shocked the community and everyone that knew him, leaving behind a huge legacy and heartfelt memories with those who knew the well-known Arcata restaurant owner.
Gonzalez was able to open his first taco truck in 2000. What started as just him and his wife selling food out of a trailer, expanded into a second location and became one of the most popular restaurants in town. After the pandemic started, his outdoor benches continued to be a convenient destination to go out to eat.
Located in the heart of downtown Arcata, the restaurant provided high school and HSU students a delicious and positive place to stop for lunch or dinner.
One of those students is Brandon Allen. He grew up in Humboldt County and went to Arcata High School.
“This is just such a loss for the community all around,” Allen said.
Allen remembered stealing a soda from Gonzalez in his freshman year of high school when Gonzalez caught him in the act. Allen felt so bad that he went back after school to apologize. Instead of punishing him, Gonzalez was actually happy to see him.
“He was super understanding, letting me know that everyone makes mistakes,” Allen said.
Even after high school, he continued to eat there and Esteban would still remember his order and want to hear about how he was doing.
“Esteban was such an important part of my teenage years,” Allen said. “He taught me a lot without me really grasping it until much later.”
Kyra Cohen, a senior at Humboldt State and an Arcata native started going to Esteban’s during their freshman year of high school.
“He was the first in Arcata that all the high schoolers knew and loved. He’d help out kids when they were short of money, and simply had the best restaurant for Arcata kids,” Cohen said.
Gonzalez’s restaurant was not only a great place to eat. He also created a fun and loving environment every time you walked in.
Cohen remembers making jokes with her friends, and Gonzalez would just crack a calm smile. He’d often jokingly laugh and smile at them.
“He’s the go-to for sure. I crave an Esteban’s burrito more than anything,” Cohen said.
Brook Reeser is an HSU senior who grew up in McKinleyville. She worked at Redwood Day Camp during the summer, and she and all her co-workers would go to Esteban’s for lunch. They all called his burritos the “best they’ve ever had.”
Arcata Main Street set up a GoFundMe page for Gonzalez’s family and has already surpassed their $15,000 goal with $28,116 as of Feb 1.