A shot of tequila while you sandbag? In Soquel Village, a community comes together during the storm

Azra Simonetti is the co-owner of Tortilla Flats restaurant in Soquel Village.
(Mark Conley/Lookout Santa Cruz)

As the flooded Soquel Creek threatened local restaurant Tortilla Flats, strangers stopped in to see if they could offer sandbags or help shovel sand into them; next-door business owners who rarely strayed over came to check in. The word “village” in Soquel Village was suddenly taking on new meaning.

Azra Simonetti was once a grizzled woman of weather.

That’s what happens when you grow up in Boston and then spend 16 years living on a snowy mountaintop in Vermont. But she didn’t bring the snow shovel west.

Since Simonetti arrived in Santa Cruz County in 1989, just in time for a bit of rocking and rolling with the Loma Prieta earthquake, Simonetti has slowly become your typical softened-up and laidback Californian.

It explains why the co-owner of Tortilla Flats restaurant in Soquel Village was anything but ready for the raging waters she, her family members and many other small business owners endured on New Year’s Eve.

She and her husband — both in their 70s and semi-retired until they took over the restaurant with their daughter a year ago — were up the street at home preparing for the quietest of celebrations. Then suddenly came the call that rain had caused Soquel Creek to jump 2½ feet, sending water flooding the parking lot behind the restaurant.

“We raced down there to see what we could do. Lucky for us, our staff had put sandbags in front of the backdoor so no water came in,” she said. “But it was crazy — our patio furniture was floating away in the parking lot.”

Another storm moved through Santa Cruz County overnight, bringing heavy rain and high winds. There is more on the way. A...

Azra, her husband Erik and daughter Zolina nervously hunkered down with a few regular customers inside the 45-year-old business, waiting to see if the rain would taper off and the threat would subside. It eventually did, but what happened next was the real miracle, Azra said.

Strangers stopped in to see if they could offer sandbags or help shovel sand into them; next-door business owners who rarely strayed over came to check in. The word “village” in Soquel Village was suddenly taking on new meaning.

Azra Simonetti is the co-owner of Tortilla Flats restaurant in Soquel Village.
(Mark Conley/Lookout Santa Cruz)

“They were also worried and stressed,” she said. “But they still came in and said ‘How are you? Do you need anything? We’ve got stuff. It was wonderful.”

Azra recalls the sense of tight community she felt in their often-snowed-in community in Vermont. “If you saw someone pull off the road back there, the first person behind then also pulls off to check on them,” she said. “It’s a matter of life or death.”

The general tepidness of California disasters, on the other hand, tends to cultivate a rugged individualism, or what some might call a lonely splintered sense of “I got this on my own.”

“I tell you there’s nothing better than a disaster,” she said. “I like to say there are no atheists in foxholes. There are no enemies. We all become friends.”

Especially if there are tequila shots being poured. And when you pride yourself on serving some of the best margaritas in town, there is plenty of tequila to be offered to those who magically appeared out of nowhere in your time of need.

“No shot was refused that night,” Simonetti said. “And before long we were all laughing and having a great New Year’s Eve.”

Fortunately, the bomb cyclone of Wednesday/Thursday bombed out in its amount of precipitation. But the next round of storms, particularly Sunday into Monday, promises more rain to overload local waterways such as nearby Soquel Creek, meteorologists say.

With their sandbags firmly in place and a greater sense of community pride, Simonetti and her family can worry about simpler problems. Like keeping the tequila cabinet stocked.

As word has spread about how disaster bonding goes down at Tortilla Flats, the pressure has mounted. “I’ve got people saying to me ‘I know where I’m going to be when the next disaster hits!’” she said.

As long as Simonetti has a say, the spirit of agave will flow through Tortilla Flats any stormy day of the week that is bringing the community together.

“It reminded me that we as humans need to be there for one another,” she said. “It’s a beautiful world. It gives you hope.”

Latest Stories



📨 VISIT THE LOOKOUT NEWSLETTER & TEXT CENTER

Be the first to know all the big, breaking news in Santa Cruz. Sign up to get Lookout alerts sent straight to your phone here or below.