OLYMPIA - Beloved former Seattle Mariner Edgar Martinez visited Olympia on Thursday night, not to autograph baseballs or his baseball card, but to promote a new business venture and raise money for a restaurant that helps survivors of domestic violence.
The new business started two years ago when Martinez and his business partners, including Gene Juarez of Gene Juarez Salons, acquired the U.S. import rights to El Zacatecano, a relative of tequila called mezcal.
“They brought this idea to me, and it was such a great product, that I decided to join them in this venture,” Martinez said.
Three types of El Zacatecano were served Thursday night at downtown’s Governor Hotel as part of a tasting. About 220 people attended the event, including city and county officials, as well as state lawmakers. There also was gambling – with fake money but real dealers – and the event was catered by Mijas, an 18-month-old restaurant in Olympia that has ties to SafePlace, a nonprofit that provides shelter and support to victims of domestic violence. Working at the restaurant helps the women earn money, learn job skills and build self-esteem.
Organizers hoped an auction would raise $2,000, Governor Hotel General Manager Sandra Miller said.
After Thursday’s event, Mijas will begin serving dinners during the third weekend of every month in the restaurant space at the hotel, Mijas director Cristina Labra said. The first dinner is set for April 16.
Labra is one of four women to start the restaurant. The others are Eriflor Lopez, Aurea Miros and Lucy Santiago. The restaurant serves Latin-American food and on the menu Thursday were tortillas, salsas, ceviche, fruit and a flan made with El Zacatecano.
Labra’s not concerned with the recent turnover of restaurants in the hotel. Other restaurants that have tried the location are Southern Kitchen; Ranch House BBQ, which temporarily relocated there after a mudslide destroyed its old location; and the Governor Grill, a restaurant that opened in August and closed in January. Mijas is supported by grant funds, Labra said, and it has a customer list of about 300 people.
“They come to support our organization and the food is good,” she said. “It’s also about a great cause.”
Martinez said that a percentage of the sales generated by El Zacatecano helps support civic efforts in Mexico, such as providing funds for soccer teams and libraries.
Martinez, a native of Puerto Rico, has been busy with his foundation and business interests since retiring from the Mariners following the 2004 season. Last year he sold his stake in a company called Branded Solutions.
He also is a founder of Plaza Bank, which has an office in Seattle and branch in Kent, and has invested in a bilingual newspaper called “Tu Decides” (You Decide), which is based in Pasco and has a weekly circulation of 31,000.
The Martinez Foundation has raised $800,000 in the past three years, which provides scholarships to students of color who want to be teachers. About 50 students have received scholarships and the foundation is producing teachers, Martinez said.
“We are filling the pipeline,” he said.