"He was a great friend. He was my best friend," said Leonor Melendez, a hostess at the restaurant, located at 34-37 Bell Blvd. She worked with Victor Mendez, 36, of Flushing, who died Dec. 25, for about 15 years.His body was flown back to his family and hometown of Teohuacan in Puebla, Mexico, she said, where it arrived for a Friday burial."He was like a mother to me, like a brother," she said. "It has been really hard."She recalled his passion for dancing, especially salsa and merengue. "He was a great dancer," she said. "He kept turning and turning me. And I don't like to be turned so much."She remembered the day he was hired in 1990. She was helping the manager at the time select between two applicants for the job. She decided the man who made the best foamed coffee would win. "He made the most awesome cappuccino. That's how he was chosen," she said. Roberto Ramirez, the current manager of Tequila Sunrise, began working with Mendez 14 years ago."It is very hard. He was my righthand man," he said. Mendez would design and create the holiday decorations, including those for the most recent Christmas which were taken down last week. He said Mendez's first job in the city after arriving from his hometown was at a bakery in Flushing. Soon after, he got the job at the Mexican restaurant, first as a busboy and then as a waiter.Ramirez said Mendez was a fan of ballad singers, including Mexican icon Juan Gabriel, and a younger pop star named Thalia.The restaurant's owner, Liz Griffith, said that although Mendez had no family in Queens, she felt as if he was a part of a larger family that formed around the business. "I grew up with him," she said. "He was the sweetest, gentlest man. And he was a great waiter. People requested him all the time."A customer who has been patronizing Tequila Sunrise since the restaurant's opening in 1989 said Mendez was his preferred waiter."Part of a restaurant's charm is the first person you meet," Joseph DeMarco said. "He greeted everybody with a smile. He would stop at every table to make sure all was fine.""He left a tremendous void here," DeMarco said Monday during his first visit back since Mendez's death. "He left a void for all of us."Friends gathered Saturday for a funeral mass at St. Robert Bellarmine Church, at 56-15 213th St. in Bayside Hills.Adolfo Carreon, 41, of 97th St., in Elmhurst was charged with Mendez' murder, according to the Queens district attorney. Mendez went to Carreon's apartment that night, police said. Carreon told police the day after the slaying that he met Mendez on the street on Christmas Eve, and the two went out drinking. They later returned to Carreon's apartment, where his wife was asleep, and continued to drink, police said. The accused attacker told police that Mendez produced a weapon and threatened Carreon and his wife, court papers said. Police said Carreon began to stab Mendez with a potato peeler, only ceasing his blows when law enforcement arrived and pulled him off the victim. He was pronounced dead at Elmhurst Hospital Center several hours later, they said.Reach reporter Adam Pincus by e-mail at news@times
©2006 Community News Group
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