Sylvan Magnus

Lesley Bargar Suter won a Beard award for Los Angeles Magazine food guides.

Cathie Anderson: Three sisters will help school that helped them

Published: Thursday, May. 10, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Friday, Jun. 22, 2012 - 10:39 pm

When the owners greet you at Three Sisters restaurant on Folsom Boulevard, you are meeting two of the three very determined Saenz sisters.

You also are seeing the impact that the adult education program at Sacramento City Unified School District can have. Dora, Norma and Sonia Saenz took classes in English as a second language and other subjects at Fremont School for Adults on N Street.

"We worked in the morning, and we went to school at night," Norma Saenz said. "I took the ESL (English as a second language) classes, and then also I … got my GED from Fremont School, so after that, I went to Cosumnes River College for some more classes. Once you know the basics, you continue."

The Saenzes recently received a visit from a Fremont School student and principal. It wasn't a courtesy call. They shared news that, following this school year, the district will eliminate adult ed classes that don't have fees or funding to sustain them. That includes the free ESL classes that provided the Saenzes with a vital bridge.

The ESL classes have attracted many restaurant kitchen employees who, like the Saenzes, want to move to higher-paying positions at the front of the house. So as one fundraising strategy, a dozen students and their teachers started appealing to restaurateurs to donate funds to keep the classes going next year.

A command of English, Norma Saenz said, allowed the sisters to negotiate a lease and eventually buy their first restaurant, Tres Hermanas (or Three Hermans, as some customers called it back then), on K Street. Sonia Saenz runs that eatery. The trio's brother Sergio runs a Davis location.

Norma and Dora run the east Sacramento restaurant, and they chatted with the student and principal who came to ask for their help. They didn't hesitate. On Tuesday evenings, their Folsom Boulevard restaurant will donate 20 percent of a patron's bill if a Fremont flier is presented. (See link above.)

Students continue to spread the word. Jimmy Johnson, owner of Zócalo on Capitol Avenue, signed up. Every third Tuesday of the month, Johnson will donate 20 percent of profits from his dinner meals – no flier needed.

(Restaurateurs can call (916) 277-6620 to join, and updates will be shared at .)

The Fremont students, many accustomed to working long hours for little pay, see fundraising as another job. They also are organizing events, including a cultural fair at Fremont School, 2420 N St., from noon to 5 p.m. on Second Saturday. About a dozen businesses have donated food to sell.

Students won't know for two months whether they've raised enough money to keep their classes going.

Andrew Zimmern's guide

Lesley Bargar Suter, the associate editor for food and dining at Los Angeles Magazine, told me she doesn't know everything about food or dining in the City of Angels.

This sense of humility paid off big Friday at Gotham Hall in Manhattan as the 1999 Bella Vista High School graduate scooped up a James Beard award for food coverage in a general-interest publication. (See the winning entries at For food writers, there's no higher recognition. The win was all the sweeter because it was the category's inaugural year.

"You can never ever know everything," the Fair Oaks native said. "… Whenever I take on an ethnic issue … I make sure that I reach out to an ethnic blogger expert and hire them to teach me … because I'm not so bold as to presume I know everything."

Suter, who is 31, used that approach with a story in her contest entry, a guide to Chinese food in San Gabriel Valley. She also submitted guides to L.A. farmers markets and breakfast spots. She received the ultimate compliment from the Travel Channel food personality Andrew Zimmern.

"I went up and introduced myself, and he stopped me halfway through and said, 'Oh, I know who you are,' and he told me, 'When you won on Friday and they showed the (magazine) cover with that Chinese food, I leaned over to my table, and I said, 'That's one of the best issues I've seen – ever.' He told me he keeps the issue in his car, and he uses it as his guide. … I was trying not to grin too widely."

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