Frank Ramirez, known to generations of customers as Mr. Panchito in honor of the Mexican restaurant he owned for more than 35 years in San Gabriel, has died. He was 88.
Ramirez died Dec. 18 at a San Gabriel hospital a week after having a heart attack, said his daughter Eileen Leiva.
A mason by trade, Ramirez opened the popular Panchito's Restaurant in 1956 on a whim.
With colleagues, he laid the bricks for the restaurant on the site of San Gabriel's first city hall and presided over it, often clothed in traditional Mexican garb, until it closed in 1993.
He followed the advice of his father, who was also a mason, Ramirez said in 2005 in The Times: "He always told me, 'Whatever you do in life, do it your best,' and that's what I did."
A 1978 review of Panchito's in The Times started by declaring, "What is more Mexican than Panchito's? Not much."
Frank Williams Ramirez was born Aug. 6, 1921, in Globe, Ariz., to Francisco and Maggie Williams Ramirez.
When he was 10, Ramirez and his family moved to Los Angeles.
As a teenager, he met his future wife, Margaret, while hanging out on Olvera Street.
They were married in 1939 and raised five children in a San Gabriel home that they bought after World War II for $10,000.
During the war, he fought in the Army under Gen. George S. Patton and was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge on Christmas Eve 1944.
In San Gabriel, Ramirez was a civic leader who held an annual golf tournament to benefit muscular dystrophy research.
Through his restaurant, he often fed needy families, his daughter said.
Customers were known to praise the marinated steak and albondigas soup. "Mr. Panchito's" favorite dish, his daughter said, was the marinated steak and shrimp.
His son Robert, who served as the restaurant's executive chef, died in 2000.
In addition to his wife and daughter Eileen of San Gabriel, Ramirez is survived by two other daughters, Cindy of Laguna Niguel and Elaine of Fresno; another son, Richard of San Gabriel; 12 grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.
A celebration of his life will be held at 2:30 p.m. today at Harvest Rock Church and Ambassador Auditorium, 131 S. St. John Ave., Pasadena.
Instead of flowers, the family suggests donating to the California Diabetes Foundation at www.diabetesfoundation.org.