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Video shows burglar vandalizing East Hollywood restaurant, causing $80,000 in damage

Surveillance video shows person vandalizing El Zarape East Hollywood restaurant.

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It was a typical Sunday at El Zarape.

Families enjoyed Mexican food and good vibes at the East Hollywood restaurant inside a strip mall on Melrose Avenue as CicLAvia shut the street down to traffic.

But the next morning, when the first cook of the day showed up Monday at the restaurant, an entirely different scene awaited. She called the owner, Beto Mendez, right away.

At first, Mendez thought it might be some graffiti on the outside of the restaurant. He was wrong.

A sign outside El Zarape tells customers that the restaurant is closed.
El Zarape on Melrose Avenue remains closed after a burglar vandalized the Mexican restaurant.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

“The minute I got there I was in shock,” Mendez told The Times in an interview. “I saw the place completely destroyed.”

Mendez said there was $80,000 worth of damage inside.

Chairs were flipped over and tables were askew. One bar had been bashed in with a hammer while all the TVs were spray-painted with graffiti. Spray paint covered one of the bar’s surveillance cameras and seemingly all of the restaurant’s walls. A safe with $20,000 was taken.

The colorful graffiti that adorns an abandoned skyscraper in downtown L.A. is, depending on who you ask, petty vandalism that plagues the city or vibrant street art that enriches.

Feb. 2, 2024

The incident was first reported by L.A. Taco.

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Surveillance video shows a man in a light-colored hoodie and dark pants and Nikes shaking a can of spray paint inside the bar before any damage was done. The man then sprays one of the surveillance cameras with paint, video shows. While Mendez could not see any other people in the videos, he assumed that there was more than one vandal, based on the amount of damage, which included “C14” tagged on the walls.

Owner Beto Mendez stands inside his vandalized restaurant.
“I saw the place completely destroyed,” says Beto Mendez, the owner of El Zarape.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Police told Mendez that the vandalism was related to the C-14 gang, also known as Clanton, he said. The Los Angeles Police Department did not immediately provide comment on the situation.

C-14 is a gang that has existed in Los Angeles for about a century, originating on Clanton Street, which was later renamed 14th Place, according to a website that documents street gangs.

The gang is active in the neighborhood, with tags up and down Melrose.

Federal authorities in Los Angeles charged 23 suspected members and associates of the MS-13 gang, alleging that one of the group’s leaders in California is a powerful Mexican Mafia figure who controls local drug sales.

Nov. 14, 2023

The group even tagged a local house of worship, Trinity Episcopal Church, scrawling “C14” on its marquee in spray paint.

“This area is like an epicenter for a couple gangs,” said a man who works near El Zarape, who asked to remain anonymous out of safety concerns. “MS-13 and C-14 as well as some other little local cliques. There’s a lot of tagging all around the neighborhood.”

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“If someone tagged the inside of the restaurant, it’s pretty serious,” he said.

For Mendez, the destruction of his restaurant could not come at a worse time. Just two weeks ago, his ex-wife died. Mendez shared custody of their two teen daughters with her and now has full custody of them.

“They have that pressure and that stress of losing their mom already and I haven’t really told them nothing about the restaurant right now,” he said. “I would rather keep it to myself and handle it.”

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department arrested five suspects, including a young teen, in connection with the Jan. 2 robbery of Ruben’s Bakery & Mexican Food.

Jan. 24, 2024

Mendez is trying to raise money to reopen the restaurant and fix the damage via GoFundMe.

While Mendez said that the restaurant has had relatively few problems in the seven years it has been open, there was an incident after the Super Bowl on Feb. 11, according to Mendez and the other person who worked at a nearby business.

That day, the two men said, after the Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers in Las Vegas, a man fired a gun into the air near El Zarape, then barricaded himself inside and police SWAT teams had to respond to arrest him.

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