By Craig Smith
Marco and Berenice Castaneda, owners of Don Perico Mexican restaurant, now in Dwight Murray Plaza at 1116 First Street, are long-time Napa residents. Like most people in Napa, they were jolted awake at 3:20 a.m., August 24, 2014, when the earthquake shook Napa to its core. “It was scary,” said Marco Castaneda. “We looked around the house to make sure everything was safe, then went to the restaurant.”
Castaneda knew things were bad as soon as he got downtown. The streets were strewn with broken glass and, in some cases, large sections of buildings that had collapsed during the shaking. Water leaks from burst pipes, some of it gushing, was evident everywhere. Shell-shocked, but busy, merchants were already helping each other make sense of it all and restore order. Castaneda opened the front door of Don Perico, and used a flashlight to look around. “It was pretty bad,” he said. Large areas of the ceiling had collapsed, and rubble was everywhere. It was obvious that, had the quake hit during dinner the night before, people would have been seriously injured, or worse. Castaneda wound his way through the mess, turned off the gas, and looked around. He realized there wasn’t much else he could do right then. Still, it never occurred to him that the restaurant was doomed at that location. “I knew the damage was bad, but figured we’d be open again in a couple of months.”
Shortly after moving from Mexico, Castaneda started his restaurant career as a busboy in a Mexican restaurant in Bakersfield.. He worked hard, paid attention to everything about the business, and was promoted repeatedly over the next ten years. His boss wanted to open a restaurant in Napa and invited Cataneda to be his partner. At the time, Castaneda had no savings, but saw this as an opportunity to make a better life for his wife and family. He borrowed from relatives and made the plunge. Don Perico opened in Napa in January of ’94. As the years passed, Castaneda bought out his partner until he was eventually sole owner. The restaurant has been a local favorite, almost since opening. The year of the earthquake was also their twentieth anniversary.
“When we knew we couldn’t return to our original location, I started looking for a new place.” Finding a spot wasn’t easy, and Castaneda and his wife took part- time jobs in a wine-storage facility in American Canyon. One day, he was commiserating with the owner of the restaurant across the street from Don Perico. After talking awhile, Castaneda offered to buy out the owner’s lease. The two men agreed, and struck a deal. That turned out to be the easy part.
At the time, the building, which is also home to Kohl’s, was not locally owned. The parent company, based in Arizona, put Castaneda through the same hoops they would with a new, prospective tenant. His quick handshake with the now-former restaurant owner turned into five months of negotiations with the building’s owners.
Don Perico re-opened May 15th this year. The restaurant was scheduled to open at 5:00 p.m., but people were waiting by 4:30, so the Castanedas opened the doors early. For the first month after they reopened there was a wait to get a table for dinner almost every night. The Castanedas are gracious, unassuming people, who are very grateful for everyone who dines with them. The support from the community has been humbling. Castaneda was recently given the American Dream Award by the Napa County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Don Perico is warm and inviting, offering good, honest, Mexican food. Take the family, and enjoy a relaxed night out.