Manuel Mata Barajas: 1937-2016

The patriarch of the Barajas family, Manuel Mata Barajas was our rock. He lived an exceptional life, full of struggle and hard work, and he accomplished his dream of owning a successful restaurant. His legacy is carried on through the family he left behind, who miss him dearly.

Manuel was born on June 17, 1937, in Aguascalientes, Mexico, to Agnes (Anita) Mata and Geronimo Barajas. He was the oldest of their four children; the others were Jose, Raquel, and Esperanza. After his parents’ divorce, his father passed away, and his mother, a U.S. citizen, moved to California in order to work and save money to bring her children over. Manuel and his siblings lived with their grandparents for eight years before Agnes was finally able to save enough money to send for them. In April 1953, they made the trip to Santa Barbara. In those eight years, Agnes had married Antonio Guevara, who had come to the U.S. through the bracero program, and they had three children: Theresa, Ana, and George. Agnes had worked for the Rose Café since moving to Santa Barbara, and the owner offered her the opportunity to buy the business. Having spent all her money to bring her kids to the U.S., she knew this would be a very difficult task. Her family came together to do whatever they could to help her buy the restaurant, and a year and a half later, in 1955, she succeeded.

Manuel Barajas
Courtesy Photo

Around this time, Manuel met a young lady named Socorro Vasquez. He was immediately smitten. He would often drive to her job at a movie theater, now the Metro 4, park right in front on State Street, and wait for her to go on break or get off work to try to court her. His courting worked, and they married on April 11, 1958. They had four children together: Manuel Jr., Ralph, David, and Gina. Due to his years working with his mother in her restaurant, he developed a strong desire to be in the restaurant industry. He worked in several restaurants alongside different chefs and developed his craft. In 1979, he was approached to open his own restaurant on the Mesa, down the hill from his home. With the help of his family, his children, and his wife, he opened the Rose Café #2 on the Mesa in August 1980. The restaurant was his pride and joy, and he worked hard to make sure it was a success. Today, 36 years later, the Rose Café is still going strong.

GREAT PRIDE AND GOOD TASTE: After an early start on Haley Street, Manuel Barajas went on to preside over the Mesa’s version of the venerable Rose Café in 1980.
Courtesy Photo

In January 2013, the love of his life, Socorro, passed away suddenly, and he was heartbroken. For several years, Manuel’s health had been in poor shape. No matter what illness he went through, however, he pulled through and went right back to his normal routine of working at the restaurant. His doctors joked that he was like a cat with nine lives and that every time he had a close call, they marked off another life. He was like Superman in that way; he seemed invincible. However, on May 11, 2016, he marked off his last life and passed away, with most of his family by his side. Even minutes before his death, the idea of him dying didn’t seem possible. He always got better, so he would get better again. And then, just like that, in an instant, he was gone. And our lives haven’t been the same since.

Writing about the life and death of my grandfather, my Tata, has been the hardest thing for me to do. How can I put into words how remarkable a person he was? He was a man of few words, a man who was strong-willed and irritatingly stubborn. He was incredibly hardworking. The restaurant was his life, his comfort — the one place from which he had difficulty keeping away. He took great pride in the Rose Café and loved knowing how much others loved it, too. His legacy will always live on in that restaurant — we, his family, will make sure of it.

Tata, I have lost others who were close to me, but losing you completely took my breath away. In losing you, we have lost a husband, a father, a grandfather, a great-grandfather, a brother, an uncle, and a friend. I have lost my best friend. We have all been so lucky to have had you for as long as we did. And now we can find comfort in knowing that you can now rest peacefully, free of pain, and surrounded by our family who passed before you. We have everything taken care of, Tata. Don’t worry. You taught us all well


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