A calling for food and community fulfills a couple’s desire for new adventures


Owners Lucy Liampetchakul and Julius Obembe opened Sausalido Cafe in Torrance in April 2019. They have worked in the restaurant industry for 19 years. (Raphael Richardson | Warrior Life)


Rickety heavy wheels screeched by on the surgical floor, echoing through the sterile corridors.

With a sense of excitement, she attempts to enlighten her 14-year-old son about her role as an attending physician at the teaching hospital when a patient with exposed stomach organs from a severe accident is rolled in.

“I think I’m gonna pass out,” Julius Obembe stammered, his face turning pale.

And as fast as Obembe’s decision to take on a tour at the hospital where his mother worked, he’s ushered out of the room on a gurney even quicker.

Faced with organs on his first day touring the hospital was enough to bring his parents’ dreams of him becoming a doctor down to earth.

Obembe, having graduated high school at 16 in Lagos, Nigeria, and not planning to go to a university, was sure he’d be pulled into the medical world if he didn’t take matters into his own hands.

He felt a need to expand on his knowledge and experience.

But it was more than just his intense hunger for knowledge that propelled him into the restaurant business and later to owning Torrance’s Sausalido Cafe — it was his rebellious nature, in defiance of his parents’ expectations of a career path.

Now Obembe, 61, and his wife Lucy Liampetchakul, 54, are hard at work running their mom-and-pop restaurant.

Sausalido Cafe is the place to relax and recharge after a difficult day for many El Camino College students, employees and the local community. This Pan-Asian cafe offers an Associated Students Organization (ASO) benefit pass discount. The cafe is just a couple minutes from El Camino, at Redondo Beach Boulevard and Yukon Avenue.

Obembe’s way of getting to this point was his determination to gain knowledge and experience, traveling from the bustling city of Lagos, Nigeria, to the serene South Bay at 18. He made the 16-hour journey in hopes of finding his calling.

What awaited him was schooling at California State University, Dominguez Hills, a path that was made more rewarding by his accomplishments in Nigeria.

He completed the West African Senior School Certificate exam to confirm his graduation from High School at 16. When the results were posted, he, along with some of his classmates did not find their results listed. The delayed results caused him and his 15 classmates to wait anxiously for four long months.

Obembe passed, but made up his mind not to continue his education in Nigeria. Instead, he decided to go to a California university. His parents did not warmly receive this decision, as his mother urged him to attend the prestigious 2-year college, Albert Academy, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where she grew up.

“I took the offer to study there with the end outcome being I would be allowed to come to Los Angeles, California,” Obembe says.

While attending the Albert Academy, Obembe applied to several universities including Cal State Dominguez. At the start of his second year at the college, he received an acceptance letter from Dominguez, but his parents advised him to complete the school year.

Regardless of his parents’ guidance, he took a break from school. Obembe’s father suggested a job opportunity at a friend’s architectural firm in Lagos, Nigeria. Despite this, Obembe remained committed to completing his education in California, but that didn’t stop him from working in the meantime.

Starting a new role as a draftsman at his father’s friend’s firm at 17, Obembe found himself in a spacious and lavish office. Drawing plans for houses became his temporary refuge, where Obembe would draft the front view, side view, elevated view, top view and floor plans, and grew to appreciate the position.

Earning a monthly income of $1,500 and an additional $500 bonus for promising designs that encouraged clients to request more work only added to the joys of his job.

“I was like wow. If I saved up my salary, I could buy my own ticket and pay my tuition at Cal State,” he says.

After saving money to do as he planned, the American Embassy sent him a letter to issue his Visa. Days later, his father took him to the travel agency and the American Embassy to get his Visa. That day, his dad told him, “You leave tomorrow.”

Obembe was off to California at 18.

That year, he began his academic journey at Cal State Dominguez, completing his studies at the age of 21.


Sausalido Cafe owner Lucy Liampetchakul mans the kitchen and tends to the sizzling pan. She owns the restaurant with her husband Julius Obembe. (Raphael Richardson | Warrior Life)
Sausalido Cafe owner Lucy Liampetchakul mans the kitchen and tends to the sizzling pan. She owns the restaurant with her husband Julius Obembe. (Raphael Richardson | Warrior Life)


While Obembe’s education began in an effort to become an English professor, Liampetchakul was occupied with earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at the same university.

After graduating, Obembe landed a teaching position at a Catholic school, which he held for two years before venturing into the public sector. At the age of 23, he started working for the County of Los Angeles as an Appraiser Assistant, a career which he later left to join the City of Los Angeles as a Tax Collector until age 29.

Obembe’s brother, Sam Obembe, friends with Liampetchakul, introduced Liampetchakul and Julius Obembe to each other. She was 23 and he was 29. Having each other in the same friend circles meant being in close proximity. Despite being near one another, they avoided each other.

“He hated me because he thought I was stuck up because I never said hi to him,” Liampetchakul recalls. “I was very shy, I did say hi to him, he just didn’t hear me.”

Their lives continued on separate paths with their busy schedules and respective relationships keeping them apart. It wasn’t until they both attended a financial seminar hosted by the World Financial Group for educational purposes that their paths crossed again.

More than nine years after their first meeting, at 32 and 39, they would date.

The draw between them was undeniable and as their relationship blossomed, they discovered shared humor, kindness and admired each other’s intelligence.

“He also agreed with everything I said. What woman doesn’t want that?” she says.

Now they have five kids: Jermaine, Kevin, Tiffany, Denzel and Dylan aged 19 to 35. All are local except Denzel who resides in Atlanta.

Julius Obembe and Liampetchakul’s road to opening Sausalido Cafe wasn’t a conventional one. Neither of them was particularly trained in the culinary arts.

Despite growing up surrounded by restaurants, with her mom working at one and eventually owning her own, and her aunt and uncle partnering in another, the culinary field rarely crossed Liampetchakul’s mind. In fact, she was displeased by the idea. Even when working at a pizza establishment from the age of 16 until her early 20s, and later as a United Parcel Service implementation manager focused on customer service, her intrigue in the culinary world remained stagnant.

A friend offered to sell their business at Thai Garden, a cafe with outdoor seating in Marina Del Rey. Despite initial hesitation from Liampetchakul, in her mind, the responsibilities seemed simple enough.

“I figured, hey, it was to go only,” Liampetchakul says. “It took minimal work.”

Together with their sons and daughter, Julius Obembe and Liampetchakul learned about the restaurant industry at Thai Garden where they worked for about 15 years as a family until the spring of 2019. This was when Julius Obembe truly got to know the restaurant industry and started to develop his plans for his future business.

Now, Liampetchakul sports a bright red, traditional chef’s uniform, exuding a sense of authority. Julius Obembe, in a blue flannel, wears wide-rimmed glasses and an easy smile, standing behind the counter. A floral divider takes its place to separate the customers on each side of the counter. Occasional chit-chat fills the air as Julius Obembe and Liampetchakul engage with their visitors.

Liampetchakul and Julius Obembe move in unspoken and spoken communication when taking orders.

The two of them take turns pivoting to either side behind the counter with Liampetchakul in charge of kitchen duties, swiftly chopping vegetables, grilling and frying, and Julius Obembe maintains the cafe’s pristine appearance, diligently cleaning, organizing, cooking and ringing up customers.

Often, Dylan Obembe, 19, their youngest son and student at West Los Angeles College, lends a helping hand by taking orders, while their other children also pitch in whenever they visit.

It was only after Liampetchakul and Julius Obembe stumbled upon a Shawarma factory in the center of an active community that the couple’s wish to open a cafe with indoor seating was satisfied.

Their hurdle was deciding between opening a restaurant or accepting an offer from Amazon to participate in their Delivery Service Partner program (DSP), where entrepreneurial individuals run their own package delivery operations.

The reason that motivated them to leave was the constraint of time with its fixed hours of operation at their previous restaurant.


Sausalido Cafe owners Julius Obembe and Lucy Liampetchakul sometimes have help from their youngest son, 19-year-old Dylan Obembe, at the restaurant. Dylan Obembe is a student at West Los Angeles College. (Raphael Richardson | Warrior Life)
Sausalido Cafe owners Julius Obembe and Lucy Liampetchakul sometimes have help from their youngest son, 19-year-old Dylan Obembe, at the restaurant. Dylan Obembe is a student at West Los Angeles College. (Raphael Richardson | Warrior Life)


This made it challenging for Julius Obembe and Liampetchakul to support their aging parents and schedule a time to care for them. Various doctor visits and attending to their simultaneous medical conditions and surgery recoveries happened within a year. The couple had to drive between their parents’ homes.

Another reason for their wishes was to relate to their customers on a more personal level.

“When it’s raining, people can come in and sit down,” Liampetchakul says.

She says she was tired of not being able to converse with their customers at their former restaurant Thai Garden where customers ordered at the window and sat at picnic tables.

Now at their current location, the couple can better communicate the care they have for their customers. The location exuded an inviting atmosphere, with warm colors, soft lighting and the comforting aroma of freshly made cocoa and steaming stir fried chicken.

Comforting, caring, reliable and welcoming — that’s how Vanesa Garcia Gusman, a loyal customer of the establishment, describes Julius Obembe.

As a full-time student at West Los Angeles College, Gusman recalls a day when she was stressed with classes and home responsibilities, while balancing a full-time work life. She takes a break by skateboarding to the cafe for some food.

Gusman’s fatigue was apparent as she approached the counter, her skateboard resting against her leg.

After the long and demanding day, she was immediately greeted by Julius Obembe’s friendly wave and Liampetchakul’s inviting smile.

“As always, I was met with a welcoming presence which helped me disconnect from the stresses I was having at the time,” Gusman says.

That day, she ordered a variety of dishes. One Thai drink with boba, a Philly cheesesteak sandwich and empanadas, not her typical order.

Julius Obembe gives updates on the cafe and knowing that his business is doing well makes her happy, Gusman says.

“I’m always glad to visit the cafe every few months,” Gusman says.

Whenever Julius Obembe and Gusman meet, they make sure to check in with each other about their lives. While he tells her what’s going on in the cafe, she confides in him about the ups and downs of her life events.

When she worked as a hostess, he would ask about her job and be one of the people she’d share her good and bad news with, such as getting promoted to shift lead or when she thought about quitting.

He’s one of the people she can always count on to give substantial insight.

“He’s very familiar with faces. They always make you feel noticed,” Valeria Gusman, an El Camino student and Vanesa Garcia Gusman’s sister, says.

When Valeria Gusman interviewed Julius Obembe for a school project, she asked him what he enjoys about his job the most. He said he loves meeting people like her and is delighted when young people who are now graduated still come and visit, Valeria Gusman adds.

“It is nice to know that there’s a little cafe in your community that’s always looking out for you,” Valeria Gusman says.

Julius Obembe’s support is just the beginning of what the restaurant offers.

With influence from various cultures, including East Asian, Southeast Asian and American cuisines, Obembe says his restaurant takes after his mother’s heritage from Sierra Leone and London where he grew up. The menu includes dishes specific to London, including fish and chips and chicken tikka masala.

“If we wanted Asian food our kids wanted American food,” Liampetchakul says. “Since we have a little bit of everything, it should satisfy a lot of people’s taste buds.”

For one, they aim to make sure their ingredients are fresh — to the point of making pasta dishes from scratch when it is requested.

They talk about many instances where customers call in for a specific dish and willingly wait half an hour for freshly made spaghetti and meatballs or Thai Chicken basil, another popular dish.

The perk is its classified status — many elaborate dishes have their place on the secret menu compiled with multiple hand-picked dishes. The importance of having a dish on the secret menu is how much it mattered to customers.


Sausalido Cafe owners Lucy Liampetchakul and Julius Obembe proudly present their menu, offering an array of delectable dishes and beverages. The restaurant is located at Redondo Beach Boulevard and Yukon Avenue. (Raphael Richardson | Warrior Life)
Sausalido Cafe owners Lucy Liampetchakul and Julius Obembe proudly present their menu, offering an array of delectable dishes and beverages. The restaurant is located at Redondo Beach Boulevard and Yukon Avenue. (Raphael Richardson | Warrior Life)


Liampetchakul said the secret menu is still flourishing and is updated on occasion.

“We’ve had people visit from Bakersfield, New Zealand and Australia who frequently return when in the area,” Julius Obembe says.

Many customers report that their dishes are well worth the wait.

The menu stood the test of time when a middle-aged woman with a blond bob named Betty Sarkissian bursts through the door on a rainy winter Tuesday afternoon, announcing that this was in fact her fifth visit in the span of a week.

“We were so happy we found this place, we’ve been eating here five days in a row,” Sarkissian exclaims, arms gesturing enthusiastically.

“Don’t tell nobody,” Julius Obembe chuckles and moves out of his seat to attend to the customer.

It was the “friendly atmosphere and great food” that pulled Sarkissian into this inevitable fixation for her, her husband and her grandchildren.

The customers’ meals aren’t the only product that keeps Sausalido Cafe customers pleased. The customers are happy with the meal and the many courtesies they receive, but it is the constant access to help the community that impresses them.

President & CEO of the Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce, Donna Duperron is an advocate for local businesses in the South Bay area.

“Mom-and-pop businesses are increasingly becoming more engaged in their communities,” Duperron says.

Often, this can be done through a social media presence or by collaborating with other businesses, she adds.

By supporting others in a local restaurant community, it can demonstrate commitment to peers and build stronger relationships.

Students looked to Julius Obembe’s cafe as a place to study. This tradition dates back to before the pandemic when the cafe first opened in April 2019.

They would often try to help students and faculty by providing them with encouragement, emboldening them in their future plans.

As a full-time student at West Los Angeles College, one thing was certain, Vanesa Gusman heard his encouragement loud and clear.

“He [taught] me not to forget where you come from; to remember that that’s a place that I should go back to,” Vanesa Gusman says. “Going into my field or when meeting new people, I should reconnect with those past relationships or the places I’ve been to.”

With the cafe as a leading example, Vanesa Gusman has applied this notion to the other community she’s a part of. Being a member of the church gives her the opportunity to serve on occasion. This is the place where she hopes to reconnect while continuing to foster her relationships.

This service wasn’t strictly for college lifestyles, but paved the way for business and career opportunities too. They would often help individuals by recommending someone or something they thought would be a good match for them.

“When I’m not cooking, I try to ask people what they do, so when students come in, I can refer them to the right people,” Liampetchakul says.

When a student named C.J. wanted work in the electrical trade, Liampetchakul remembers Julius Obembe racing to find a fit for him. He knew of a program with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and gave the student information, so that he could get his credentials as an electrical helper, Liampetchakul says.

As soon as the students got a feel for the restaurant ambiance and culture, they would say, “this is our new hangout spot,” Julius Obembe says.

However, nothing was that simple for this cafe.

Right as the pandemic hit, Liampetchakul told the students and youth to stay home with their families.

“Fortunately they listened,” she recalls with a smile.

Even before the pandemic, Sausalido Cafe faced tough moments.

Despite the many positive word-of-mouth testimonies and the highly rated Yelp reviews surpassing big chain restaurants, people preferred to go to restaurant chains such as The Pan and iHop. Some even criticized the restaurant when it was recommended to them.

One possible contributing factor to these occurrences was the ongoing pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests, which may have influenced their general perception of the restaurant, Liampetchakul suggests.

On some days, people came in and would instantly turn away because they saw an empty restaurant. They look at the menu, see that Julius Obembe is the only worker and then leave.

It was business as usual months before the pandemic when a car broke into the storefront because of an incident with a dog on a driver’s lap. The woman involved came back to report that there were no injuries. Since then, Julius Obembe has changed the layout of the restaurant to create a safer environment in case of future accidents.

As the woman’s car ran through the storefront, it added to the difficulties Julius Obembe and his customers were already experiencing during the pandemic. Even with ongoing delivery services, he and his wife were disappointed with the boarded-up appearance of the restaurant because it meant that it was less attractive to customers.

And for a while, it was.

The brush with grievances is a probable cause for Julius Obembe and his wife to back down, yet, their family persevered.

Their calling is a personal mission to serve the community first.

“I don’t see that dollar sign, I see you as a person,” he says. “If you’re full and you’re happy, then I’m happy.”

Drawing inspiration from the cherished 1980s and ’90s sitcom called “Cheers,” set in a bar with humorous and heartwarming moments, Liampetchakul hopes people who come to their restaurant can feel the essence that the sitcom’s theme song “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” embodies.

“You wanna go where everyone knows your name, and they’re always glad you came,” Liampetchakul belts out heartily.

The two are reminded of a youth named Michael that visits with parents from Northern California. The couple feels like their restaurant could represent the community’s neighborhood cafe for Michael and many others, where those come to feel known and welcome.

“You talk to them like you would talk to your mom and dad,” Julius Obembe says.

“You have that neighborhood cafe that you love to go to because you’re not home and your parents aren’t near,” Liampetchakul adds. “It reminds you of home.”



Editor’s Notes:

  • Headline was updated on Wednesday, June 7.
  • Photos were enlarged for better placement on Sunday, June 11.