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'It's all for him': Grand Rapids restaurant surpasses fundraising goal for employee who drowned in Lake Michigan

21-year-old Jonathan Mendez worked at Tacos El Cuñado Bridge Street since he was 16.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Less than a week after a Grand Rapids man died while swimming in Grand Haven, the community where he lived and worked came together in a huge way.

On Friday, Tacos El Cuñado Bridge Street hosted a fundraiser to support the family of Jonathan Mendez, and there was a line down the street even before it started.

It's the restaurant where Mendez worked for more than four years before he drowned on Sunday at Grand Haven State Park. 

"Oh my god, I can't explain the feeling when I found out what happened," said Owner of Tacos El Cuñado Bridge Street, Mary Martinez. "It was so sad."

Martinez hired Jonathan Mendez, or Jonny as they called him, to work at her restaurant when he was just 16. 

"He did a really good job here, he was a great," she said. "He was always smiling, dancing, listening to music."

And when she heard of his passing, Martinez said knew she had to do something in his honor.

"God said we had to do it," she said, "and that this is the right thing."

Because it was food that brought them together, she knew a fundraiser would be the perfect way to raise money for Jonny's family and funeral expenses.

"I knew this was going to be amazing, and it has been so big and I have so much support," said Martinez.

For the entirety of Friday, 100% of sales were donated to Jonny's family. Tacos El Cuñado was also joined by three other restaurants to donate their sales. Pupuseria Las Comadres (Wyoming), Taqueria El Mariachi (Wyoming), Restaurant Cancun El Pifas (Grand Rapids), Tacos El Cuñado (Jenison) and El Grangero Mexican Grill (Grand Rapids).

Hundreds of people came throughout the day to get good food and show their support. One of them was long-time friend and customer, Derrick Mathis.

"Jonny would be one of the people that would peek his head out of the back of the restaurant, and he'd always be so happy and ask how I was doing," Mathis said. "He would always greet people with open arms and full of love."

"This whole situation has not only heartbreaking for me and his family, but you can see from the turnout at the fundraiser that he really had a big impact on a lot of people," Mathis added.

The fundraiser was only set to run for six hours, but by 6 on Friday night, there were still so many people in line so they kept it open until they ran out of food. Martinez said her goal was to raise $15,000 for the family.

By the end of the night, they raised $15,380 for Mendez's family and funeral expenses.

"I feel so happy because this is all for Jonny," Martinez said. "This is all because of Jonny."

And if you couldn't make it out Friday, but still want to support Jonny and his family, his brother has set up a GoFundMe in his honor. 

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