SAN JOSE (KPIX) — Michael Williams bought his mother’s restaurant, a Los Gatos staple, about five years ago when the economy was booming.

Now he doesn’t know how much longer Southern Kitchen Los Gatos will survive and it’s not just because of the pandemic.

“It was my mom’s restaurant,” Williams said. “She worked very hard for this place.”

Williams said he adapted after the stay-at-home order went into effect in March.

He said he was offering to-go orders, like many restaurants, before outdoor dining was allowed in Santa Clara County.

He was doing OK, Williams said, until it got too hot and people didn’t want to sit outside.

Then came the wildfires, including the CZU Lightning Complex Fire just over the hill in Santa Cruz County.

“We used every penny,” Wiliams said. “I mean seriously, every cent we had.”

That included the money he had saved for his children’s college tuition.

With smoke from the wildfires making the air unhealthy, Williams took to NextDoor.com to tell the community he would provide free, hot meals to firefighters and evacuees until he was out of food. Williams said he was on the brink of shutting down, anyway.

“I will not be charging anyone who needs a meal. I will do my best to do it as long as I can. Please let me know if you need help,” he wrote.

Firefighters and evacuees showed up at his restaurant door but, Williams said, so did donations that he never asked for.

“Everyone just started donating money and donating food and just coming in and supporting us and it literally, overnight changed our life,” said Williams.

He said he was able to pay some bills he hadn’t been able to pay for months.

And now the money will continue to pay for the meals he offered to those in need.

Williams said he has no idea how long Southern Kitchen Los Gatos will stay open.

“I feel bad even opening, it feels selfish to me like, ‘Hey, come sit in the horrible air so I could survive,” Williams said. “This is what we love to do. I really don’t know what else I want to do.”

Williams is accepting donations for his restaurant and to continue feeding firefighters and the community in need. You can find more information at southernkitchenlg.com

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