Willow Glen community steps up after chef loses everything in blaze
Antonio Gutierrez, a chef at Cafe Gourmet, lost everything he owns in a house fire, but the Willow Glen community has stepped up to help. Photo by Carina Woudenberg.

A chef at a Willow Glen cafe lost everything in a fire that struck his Campbell home last week, but now the community is rallying to help get him back on his feet.

Antonio Gutierrez was working a second job at a restaurant in Campbell last Sunday when he learned the apartment he shared with his sister and her family had burned down. The blaze began in the kitchen and spread to the living room— eventually reaching all four units in the apartment complex. Fire officials say the cause was a grease fire which sparked accidentally while someone in the home was cooking.

The family escaped the blaze in time, except for two pet guinea pigs that belonged to Gutierrez’s five-year-old nephew. Gutierrez says his family was shaken by the fire but grateful that everyone made it out safely.

Gutierrez was left with nothing but his car and the clothes on his back and is now scrambling to rebuild his life.

When Cafe Gourmet owner John Stratton heard what happened to his employee, he and others at the Willow Glen eatery stepped up to help. Stratton said Gutierrez, who returned to work the morning after his home was destroyed, is “one of the best men” he’s ever worked with. That morning, Stratton said someone brought him a toothbrush and “a little money” and Gutierrez was brought to tears.

A co-worker who lives near the cafe offered to give Gutierrez a temporary place to stay while Stratton gathered an inflatable mattress and some bedding for Gutierrez to use. Stratton and others at the cafe provided cash and other donations — such as a special fleece blanket from a co-worker.

“What am I supposed to do?” Gutierrez told San José Spotlight, adding that he chose to return to work the day after the fire to avoid “sitting around feeling depressed.”

Stratton decided to see if he could gain more support for Gutierrez by posting his employee’s story on the Willow Glen Neighbors Facebook group.

“We got a huge response in the community,” said Stratton. “Two thousand dollars in three days.”

Stratton followed that up with an official fundraising page through the social media site and was happy to see that it had quickly netted hundreds of dollars.

Stratton has owned the cafe for nearly six years and said Gutierrez, who’s worked there for two years, is a “wonderful man with the biggest heart in the world.”

Stratton adds that while he is impressed with the outpouring of support shown for Gutierrez, in some ways he isn’t surprised.

“People are tight here and I know a lot of people,” he said. “If you’ve lived here for a while you’ve probably passed by these doors at least once — we’re that neighborhood place.”

Gutierrez says he hopes to find an affordable home in Campbell and will continue to live with his sister, brother-in-law and nephew. As a chef, he spends most of his time in the kitchen but Gutierrez has gotten to know the community over the last two years while doing some serving too.

He says he is grateful for the support.

“Everybody’s very kind, very sweet,” he said in Spanish.

Donations for Gutierrez and his family can be made here.

Contact Carina Woudenberg at carinaw86@gmail.com or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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