Looking to honor the servicemembers who touched his family’s lives over the years, Jorge Olamendi, Sr. teamed up with Dana Point artist Ashley Keene to create a new mural outside of his restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway.
In designing the mural, Olamendi encouraged Keene to draw inspiration from a painting that he had received from his son that depicts a soldier sitting below a tree. Since his son gifted the painting, it has been hanging in the restaurant along a colorful wall full of paintings and photographs.
“We love America,” Olamendi said. “This gift makes me very proud, and this mural makes me very proud. God bless the veterans.”
The painting brought back memories of Marines who were friends of Olamendi’s.
Olamendi recalled two Marines who would come every two weeks and help clean the kitchen when his wife, Maria, was pregnant so that she didn’t have to.
“I always appreciated that, because that was my first encounter with service people, and from then on, we made a lot of friends,” Olamendi said.
“When I thought about the mural, I also thought about—I used to coach Boys & Girls Club, and one of my players, Abi Meier, joined the Marines,” Olamendi continued. “He served, he joined the Marines, and unfortunately, he died.”
Olamendi’s son, Jorge Olamendi, Jr., explained that Meier, from San Clemente, was killed in action while serving in Iraq. Tyler Holtz, another player whom Olamendi coached, was killed while serving in Afghanistan at 22 years old.
Olamendi hoped to honor each of the servicemembers who touched his family’s life through the mural painted just outside his restaurant.
Keene explained that a month or two ago, she struck up a conversation with Olamendi, who was looking to revamp the existing outdoor mural. Olamendi came to Keene with the idea for a new, patriotic mural, showing Keene the painting that his son had gifted him.
“Jorge was saying he wanted to create a mural to honor veterans and to show how grateful he was for those who serve and those who continue to serve,” Keene said.
The process of painting the mural took a little more than a week, Keene said, spending her days painting outside the restaurant.
“I wanted to include everything that was on the original painting, but kind of make it a little bit different,” Keene said. “So, I included the tree and the doves and, of course, our warrior kneeling next to the cross of a fallen friend.”
Keene made the flag in the background look as though it was waving in the wind, lit by the setting sun.
“I always like to use bright colors, so I made the white a little bit orange. I kind of wanted to make it look like the sun was setting on it,” Keene said, adding: “It was an honor to be able to create this, and Jorge also wanted to put ‘God Bless America and Thank you’ to make sure that the message was clear on that.”
Since painting the mural, Keene said she had received Facebook messages from veterans who were touched by the mural.
“Thank you for having me do this; I felt honored to be a part of making this happen,” Keene said to Olamendi.
“The honor was mine, actually,” Olamendi responded. “I felt that I had to give something to the community.”
“I felt that I had friends in the service, and some of my friends have gone, and I felt deeply that I needed to do something, and I’m so happy that it turned out to be a beautiful mural,” Olamendi continued.
This year, Olamendi’s Mexican Cuisine is celebrating its 50th anniversary after opening in 1973 in San Clemente.
Being a pioneer of traditional Mexican food in the ’70s was not easy, Olamendi said. Maria and Jorge Olamendi worked together, with Maria in the kitchen and Jorge running the front of the house.
As the customer base grew, Olamendi’s moved to its current location on Pacific Coast Highway in Dana Point.
“We’ve been going through some changes, but we are very, very blessed and thankful to all of the community who has helped us, and, in a way, they have become Olamendi family members,” Maria said.
With the addition of the new mural, Keene wanted to thank veterans and those actively serving.
“Thank you to our veterans and those currently serving, those putting their lives on the line so that we can live in a beautiful area and enjoy food in great restaurants like (Olamendi’s),” Keene said.