Llemonte Fuqua talks about his second chance working for a nonprofit. Fuqua lost his business, Tasty Bagel on Foothill Boulevard in Claremont, then started living on the streets.
I used to think if you owned your own business, you couldn’t get laid off.
Boy, was I wrong.
The Great Recession of 2008-present chewed up Llemonte Fuqua’s bagel business and spit it out. By the middle of 2009, Tasty Bagel in Claremont was no more. Fuqua, who had sold his house and put the money into his business, had boiled his last bagel. He was out on the street. In less than a year, he lost his business, his home, his car, even his cell phone. He was sleeping in the Best Buy parking lot in Rancho Cucamonga and hanging out at the Barnes and Noble.
Second chances? Yeah. They’re real, too. More real than what that wingless, middle-aged angel offered George Bailey in Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Fuqua’s hope now comes from a church family (after losing his first family — his mom, sister and brother in rapid succession) and from the volunteer coordinator of a Rancho Cucamonga food pantry called Touch Ministries, Sue Maloney.
“We are just thrilled to have him,” she said to me during a recent visit, her arm warmly embracing his shoulder. “And his cooking? Well, it’s gourmet. We’re thrilled to have him as part of our family,” she said.
Maloney may not be his angel, per se. And no, she didn’t drop in from points north. She moved from West Covina in 1993 after getting a divorce from a doctor at Queen of the Valley Hospital. Her new life is dedicated to helping people like Llemonte get enough food to survive and maybe find a job.
She’s happy that Llemonte, a 57-year-old unemployed business- man/cook, is preparing the ministry’s free meals on Friday nights. It started with chili and cornbread for 125 people but keeps expanding. He hopes to help the ministry make some money so it becomes self-sustaining.
Fuqua’s goals are simple. He wants a job. But after endless applications to the Wal-Marts of the world and no callbacks, he became frustrated. Until he met a pastor from Life Point Church and Maloney.
“I want to do something I enjoy. And I want to get some place where I can survive.”
Without an income, and with no savings, Fuqua is sleeping in the church offices, he said, and helping out with Touch and the RC Family Resource Center during the day. He’s surviving — barely.
His downfall is not atypical of other small business owners facing a crisis — it’s a ledger filled with bad choices and money mistakes.
Fuqua began working at Tasty Bagel Cafe, 911 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont, in 2003. He became a partner, then bought out his partner and became sole owner in 2007. The place was one I frequented whenever I’d make the drive to Claremont. He sold the best bagels I ever tasted — that’s saying a lot from a guy from New York. Testimonials on Yelp included similar raves from clients as far flung as Portland and west Los Angeles.
Fuqua tried to revive sales with new items and institutional clients (he made breakfast burritos for a local college) but couldn’t turn the tide. The cost of flour rose from $8 a 50-pound bag to $13, he said; the price of eggs also fluctuated. Other business in the center closed. Customer traffic slowed to a crawl. With busted credit, no savings and no one to help him, he couldn’t pay his business rent and closed the store. Later, he was evicted from the house he was renting and began living on the streets.
Mistakes? By using money from his home instead of a loan, he was left with no fallback position. He even put $14,000 into restoring a Volkswagen Super Beetle and when he needed cash, he sold it for $2,500 — a loss of $11,500.
But what amazes me the most is his determination and resiliency. After getting advice to work with a nonprofit, he is looking beyond the bread lines. “The soup kitchen is the first step. I have a dream of a community that takes care of itself,” he said.
When I went to take his picture for my blog he said apologetically that he doesn’t smile for photographs. Then he flashed a wide grin and laughed warmly.
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To give to Touch Ministries, call 909-477-2781. Closer to home? Give to Foothill Unity Center (www.foothillunitycenter.org) in Monrovia or call them at 626-358-3486.