RICHMOND, Calif. (KGO) -- A Richmond institution, the beloved Salute E Vita waterfront restaurant is closing its doors tomorrow. It comes after a long-running dispute with the landlord.
It's a bittersweet birthday for Menbe Aklilu, one that marks the end of one chapter and the start of another.
"We'll see each other," said to one customer as she was leaving, in a day filled with hugs and tears.
"I decided to close it on my birthday because 23 years ago today, I came to the United States from Italy," explained Menbe, who goes by her first name.
Originally from Ethiopia, Menbe came to the United States from Italy with nothing, homeless, with an infant son.
She started working as a hostess at Salute E Vita and eventually managed to buy it.
"I gave her a hand," said Mike DeSimoni, who gave Menbe a $500,000 loan in 2002. "I lent her the money but within one year she paid me back in full, which is spectacular."
Since then, Salute has not only survived, it has thrived.
"The service was always great and then when she bought out the place, it just got better," said Mike Borbridge, who described himself as a regular customer.
Both in and outside her restaurant, Menbe has given back to the community in countless ways, hosting free dinners for the homeless on Thanksgiving and treating single mothers on Mother's Day. She has also started a charitable foundation, called Menbe's Way which is managed by the Richmond Community Foundation.
"We knew it might come to this end. We believe she will pick up and start again," said another customer Henrietta-Cookie Wallace.
These final two days, Menbe is serving free meals in exchange asking for cash donations, for her staff.
"Today is my treat for them, but I'm encouraging them to leave a good tip for my workers," said Menbe. "It's not about me. It's about us."
And while the restaurant will close Friday, the woman has no plans to leave the community she loves.
On Monday, she told us, she will begin working and cooking at a Richmond soup kitchen. Beyond that, Menbe hopes to open another restaurant in the city she calls home.