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Gore’s Tamale Break Thrills Deli Owners

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was well after lunch, but Al Gore was hungry. So the vice president showed up at Carrillo’s Tortilleria and Mexican Deli to try the famous tamales.

Manager and co-owner William Luna said he was busy with customers Tuesday at lunchtime when a Gore security man came in, alerting him that the vice president would be stopping by later. Soon Secret Service agents with bomb sniffing German shepherds were canvassing the business and police were closing off nearby streets.

Meanwhile, Luna called his sister, Yvonne Cruz, to tell her to come over.

“I didn’t believe him. I thought it was a joke,” said Cruz, also a manager at the family owned business, but she rushed over from her Sylmar home. “Nothing like that happens around here.”

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About 3 p.m. an entourage of Secret Service agents, San Fernando police and CHP officers, Gore staffers and reporters entered the restaurant at 1242 Pico St.

Staffers at the office of Rep. Howard Berman (D-Mission Hills) had suggested to Gore’s presidential campaign staff that they stop in the San Fernando Valley and eat at the restaurant, said Berman’s district director Robert Blumenfield.

“We knew of it slightly before it happened. It was an off-the-record event. There was no guarantee he would stop by,” Blumenfield said.

With camera flashes erupting like lightning bolts, Cruz said she thought she was at a fancy film premiere. The chaos reminded her of harried customers flocking to Carrillo’s over the holidays.

“Only in Christmas time do we get a mad dash for tamales,” Cruz said. The store has been selling homemade corn tortillas for more than half a century.

Gore ordered the pork tamales in sauce with rice and beans, Cruz said. But the vice president stuck around for only half an hour. “Gore was starting to eat and he couldn’t finish,” Cruz lamented. “People were taking pictures and shaking his hand.”

The restaurant refused to charge Gore for his meal, but the vice president handed over to the family a big tip--a $20 bill that he signed. He also posed for a photo with Cruz, Luna and other relatives.

“It’s like once in a lifetime that someone that high up in office, maybe our future president, shows up,” Luna said.

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