DOWNEY - On Monday he told me the last hurdle to opening his Sports Bar next door, which was months in preparation, was the thumbs up from the health department people. If this happened on the morrow (Tuesday), he would open the bar Friday.Well, Mambo Grill owner/operator David Llamas got the good news right on schedule. So what did he do? Apparently, Friday wasn't soon enough. So he opened his bar the following day (Wednesday). Now, Llamas, who had finished high school before coming here at age 14 from his hometown of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, can now serve beer and wine, in addition to his regular menu of American and Mexican dishes which have found favor among his increasingly expanding clientele. He says he can prepare any desired dish 'on order': The restaurant's motto is, "If you can think it, we can cook it." The chipotle chicken sandwich and the chicken tortilla soup are his two bestsellers. He wants to erase any misconception about the bar. He says it will strictly be 'family-oriented', and that the main motivation for his expansion (which cost $110,000) was to accommodate larger families and groups. The original 1200-sq. ft. Mambo Grill area ( at 11018 Downey Ave.) accesses into the 1200-sq. ft. Sports Bar (11016 Downey Ave.) facility - and vice-versa - through two inside doors. Llamas never planned on running a restaurant. While still in his teens, his first job was a part-time one, at Cook Induction Heating Co., a metal heat-treating firm in Maywood. He was to work there for 22 years. Those 22 years, in addition to what his parents taught him, were to shape his outlook on life. Noticing his potential, the owner, Forrest Doolittle, made him foreman of the brazing department and bade him take the 4-year course in metallurgy nights twice weekly at Don Bosco College in Rosemead.("He was a great role model for me. I can't thank him enough"). Over time he progressed to heat-treating department foreman, then to plant manager. After two years in the position, Llamas decided it was time to strike out on his own. He formed his own metal heat-treatment company. He called it Industrial Heat Treat, and located it in Huntington Beach. He was to operate the business from 1991-2000, when he sold it to a subcontractor for Boeing Corporation. The facility was subsequently absorbed by Boeing. In the meantime, he had married wife Rosa, who was a bona fide CPA back in Mexico. He met her while he was a guest at a welcoming party thrown by a couple of friends for their sister who was in the U.S. visiting for a couple of weeks. Before she could return home, Llamas got her to say yes to his proposal of marriage. The two friends who were responsible for their meeting are now his brothers-in-law. Prior to acquiring Mambo Grill from previous owner Daniel Picardi some 9-1/2 years ago, Llamas trained at the Culinary Arts Institute in Anaheim ("I knew next to nothing about cooking"). His investment was $100,000. According to a published story, Picardi's restaurant philosophy was to provide "good food, a great atmosphere, reasonable prices, and excellent service." Llamas agrees, but has his own simpler version: "Our main concern is to please our customers." He then goes on to say: "We love our work, we love serving people. Once they come to Mambo Grill, they become clients. Then they become friends." His way with people is rooted in what his father, Jose, used to tell him: "The sun shines on everybody." And like any proud owner who admits to "living a dream," he indulges in a bit of exaggeration, "Not only do we have the best food in town, but the best customers." Thus growth in clientele, receipts ("a 15 percent sales gain over last year"), and goodwill - plus finding himself amid a visible reawakening of downtown Downey - gives him firm faith in Mambo Grill's chances for the future. He says he and Rosa wanted to be able to work together and spend more time with family, and the restaurant has enabled them to do just that. Son David Jr. is a police officer with the L.A. School Police Department, while daughter Roxana is working on her teaching credential at Cal State Long Beach as she substitute-teaches special ed at DUSD. His 89-year-old mother, Juana, lives with them in South Gate, while oldest sister Maria Ceja, who helped raise him back in the day, resides in Downey. David is the seventh of 12 children. He says, "What I do here, you can't call it work. It's fun. I enjoy every minute of it." With those words, the gregarious restaurateur Llamas revealed what in the final analysis may be the best ingredient for the continued success of his establishment on Downey Avenue.
********** Published: March 31, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 50