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Raul Martinez Sr., founder of King Taco, dies at 71

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Raul Martinez Sr., founder of the King Taco chain, one of the original Los Angeles Mexican fast food restaurants known for al pastor tacos and late night sopes, died Tuesday at the age of 71, the company announced.

The details surrounding his death have yet to be released, but King Taco posted the following statement on its Facebook page: 

"To our beloved customers, it is with great pain and sorrow that we inform you that on December 3rd one of our founders Raul Martinez Sr. passed away. In respect to him and his family all King Taco locations will be closed in his honor. He will be truly missed. May God bless everyone and his family."

Employees called him a "great motivator, who always wanted people to succeed and be more than what they were already." 

One former employee, Bernice Sand, said she had worked with and known Martinez since 1980. During a phone call with The Times, Sand's daughter, who also works for the Martinez family, translated for her mother, and commented on her time with him. 

"He was an innovator, he had a vision, and he made it possible," Sand said. "Before he came around, nobody used to sell pork tacos [al pastor], so he started to sell that at midnight outside of a bar on Brooklyn, which is now called Cesar Chavez Avenue. We didn't have food trucks back in the '70s -- back when he started."

King Taco began in 1974 when Martinez converted an ice cream truck and used it to make and sell tacos.

"They told me I was crazy," Martinez told the Times in a 1987 story on his growing brand. "But ... here I am."

Six months later after he started with the taco truck, Martinez opened the first brick-and-mortar restaurant on Cypress Avenue in Los Angeles and eventually expanded to more than 20 locations. Martinez and his brother also opened El Taurino, another Mexican restaurant known for its tacos. 

As well known as Martinez was for his tacos, he was equally renowned for his charity work with the East Los Angeles community. 

"It was because of him they started the posada for King Taco every December," Sand said. "He had people come and give for the East L.A. people gifts and food and it's a big celebration."

"He changed the course of many lives," added Sand's daughter. "Because of him, many are where they are at right now."  

Want more food news? Follow me on Twitter: @Jenn_Harris_

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