Like most San Diegans, former Chargers player and Point Loma resident Israel Stanley grew up eating good Mexican food. Today, he’s sharing his love of the cuisine with his community, one dish at a time, at his family-owned restaurant.
Stanley owns and operates Sunnie’s in Ocean Beach, a Mexican café and taco shop on Point Loma Avenue. Sure, he’s the Black owner of a Mexican café (and likely the only Black-owned taco shop in San Diego), but he doesn’t consider Mexican culture his adopted culture.
“It’s just my culture,” he told NBC 7.
You see, Stanley knows good Mexican food. He's a San Diego native and, by his count, has been eating Mexican food “for the past 36 years.”
“Me being from San Diego – and 20 minutes from the border – I was privy to very good food,” he explained. “Growing up here, I had a lot of Latino friends, very close friends – from then and still to this day – and I always had very good Mexican food.”
When Stanley was 18 years old, he went off to college, to Arizona State University. Quickly, he noticed there were no solid taco shops around. He missed his San Diego Mexican food.
He had an idea.
Stanley said he put on his “dirty little suit,” walked into a bank and tried to get a loan to start his own taco shop. He was a broke college student, so it, of course, did not work out.
But it wasn’t easy to let go.
“All these years later, that dream was still burning inside,” Stanley told NBC 7.
Stanley was playing the long game.
“Four years ago, I was finally able to make that dream come true,” he said.
Stanley was able to open his very own taco shop in Ocean Beach, about a block away from Sunset Cliffs. His restaurant is also located just blocks from his home.
“I’m a local,” the 1988 Point Loma High School graduate said, speaking of his deep-rooted connection to the community.
At Sunnie’s, Stanley is truly home. And he hopes patrons feel just as comfortable there.
Stanley believes food has the power to unite people – no matter your culture or background.
“I believe that culturally, sharing meals with each other, bonds us and brings us together,” he said. “Sharing different types of food brings us even closer.”
Stanley’s friend, Franciso Bojarin, has known the NFL player-turned-restaurateur for more than 30 years. He said Stanley owning a Mexican café is no surprise, at all.
Stanley and Bojarin played sports together growing up in Point Loma. Stanley would come over to Bojarin’s house a lot and eat dinner with Bojarin’s family.
“He’s always loved Mexican culture and Mexican food,” Bojarin told Telemundo 20 and NBC 7.
Stanley loved to eat the food Bojarin’s mother would make. Bojarin said Stanley would always ask for seconds – sometimes, even thirds.
He said seeing Stanley accomplish his dream to own Sunnie’s has been a beautiful thing to watch from the sidelines.
So, what about the menu here?
Well, San Diegans will find breakfast tortas, burritos and tacos, plus bowls, sandwiches and breakfast bowls.
Stanley said he’s probably eaten at half of the taco shops and Mexican restaurants in San Diego in his lifetime, so he knows what makes a solid menu. He said you can tell a good Mexican eatery from its beans.
“When you taste their beans, you can tell if the food is going to be good or not – and if it’s real,” he explained.
He’s been told Sunnie’s is the only Black-owned taco shop in San Diego County and, while he hasn’t done the research to confirm this himself, Stanley said it’s probably safe to say.
At the end of the day though, for him, it’s not about race.
He said celebrating Black History Month through food and culture is fantastic but added, “Until we don’t have to celebrate one race’s heritage – and we celebrate the human race – we will always be not united and never truly be free as a human race.”
With so much divide in the country right now, Stanley said his taco shop – and his community – is a place to come together.
“I know it’s been a very tough 12 months for most of the country, for this community,” he told NBC 7. “I’ve been on a lot of teams in my life; the ones actually less talented but they stuck together, actually performed better on the field than the ones with talent. What I mean is, if we stick together – as a team – this community, we can help each other get through this tough time right now.”