Rufus, a 37-year-old pacu fish and tiki icon, finds a home

Rufus lives in a tank inside the long-closed Bahooka restaurant in Rosemead. The new owners say they will keep the 37-year-old pacu fish and the other fish and turtles that live in tanks at the restaurant.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

A 37-year-old pacu fish and icon to tiki fans has found a home after nearly a year of living in a closed Rosemead restaurant.

The property’s current owners decided Monday they would keep Rufus and build him a new aquarium in the Chinese restaurant they plan to open.

Charles Ye, a spokesman for the owners, said they decided to keep Rufus to help decorate the restaurant. They also feared moving him would be harmful to his health.

“He’s 37 years old already,” Ye said. “We want to take care of him.”

Bahooka, a lavishly decorated tiki restaurant known for an enormous fish collection, closed last March after nearly 50 years of operation. The fish have been living in the abandoned restaurant for the last year as the current owners decided what to do with them.


When renovations of the shuttered restaurant began about two weeks ago, the owners sought to remove the fish. At the time, fans feared Rufus and Bahooka’s other fish would become homeless.

Tiki enthusiasts and members of the group Hidden LA plunged into action. To date, they’ve raised more than $2,700, found experts to donate services and identified another tiki restaurant, Damon’s Steakhouse in Glendale, that agreed to house Rufus.

Lynn Garrett, founder of Hidden LA, said she was disappointed Rufus would not be moving to Damon’s. She has not decided what she will do with the money raised on Rufus’ behalf and plans to ask the contributors what they want to do with it.

“We are still willing to take the fish on and we really do care about him,” Garrett said.

In an update posted on the Hidden LA Facebook page, Garrett wrote that the new owners are keeping Rufus “because due to the press attention they saw he has value.”

Jorge Mastache, Rufus’ caretaker for the past 13 years, said the new owners want to install a 2,079-gallon tank for the fish. Mastache will be kept on as Rufus’ caretaker, and Rufus will share the tank with a few other pacu fish, he added.

The other fish and turtles that currently live with Rufus in the abandoned restaurant will be relocated to the current owners’ home, Mastache said.

The current owner is asking for donations to help pay for Rufus’ new home, Ye said. It will take an additional $6,000 to $12,000 to purchase and install the tank, which is nearly seven times the size of Rufus’ current tank. Construction could begin as early as next week, Ye said.

The Chinese restaurant, which is tentatively named May Flower, could open as early as June, Ye said.


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