Longest-tenured Way Station employee dies

A photo memorial is set up on a table at the Way Station Coffee Shop in Old Town Newhall following the death of decades-long employee Jose Sanchez. Michael Picarella/The Signal

The story goes, he was just a kid, new to the country and rummaging through trash bins behind the Way Station Coffee Shop in Old Newhall, looking for scraps of food to eat. The owner of the diner, Stanley Bronstrup, discovered the young boy and asked if he needed work. The young boy said he did. Bronstrup offered the kid a job, the kid took the job, and he worked there until the end. 

Jose Sanchez, who’d been flipping eggs, delivering drinks and making memories with hungry families since that day back in 1974, died last week. Family, friends and more than 100 people who commented on the longtime eatery’s Facebook page went as far as to say Sanchez was the Way Station. 

Decades-long Way Station employee Jose Sanchez poses for a picture taken by a loyal patron in July of 2019 at the Way Station Coffee Shop in Old Town Newhall. Sanchez died on Sept. 13. Photo courtesy of Randy Thompson

“So many people grew up with him,” said Eric Leeser, current owner and son of Jeri Bronstrup, who started the diner with husband Stanley in 1971. “And like the license plates and the memorabilia here, Jose is just part of the scene, part of the fabric of this place.” 

Sanchez was born on June 28, 1954, in a small town of Jalisco, Mexico. According to Leeser, Sanchez died of some form of stomach cancer on Sept. 13. He was one of six kids and has a big, extended family. In fact, much of Sanchez’s family worked and continues to work at the Way Station.

Tito Gonzalez, who is Sanchez’s nephew, is a Way Station employee.  

“He actually got my father a job here,” Gonzalez told The Signal on a quick break in between waiting on tables earlier this week. “Long story short: When my parents emigrated from Mexico to the United States, my father had difficulty trying to find a job, and it was Jose, my mom’s brother, who got my dad the job here. Eventually, the rest of me and my siblings began working here.” 

Way Station employee Tito Gonzalez stands next to a photo memorial at the Old Town Newhall coffee shop memorializing his uncle and decades-long employee Jose Sanchez, who died last week. Michael Picarella/The Signal

Gonzalez’s dad, Victor Gonzalez, has been a short-order cook there for about 40 years. The whole family is thankful to Sanchez. But more than that, Sanchez was a joy to them and others daily. 

“Everyone loved him,” Gonzalez said. “He was a good guy. He always tried to make everybody happy, always trying to make everybody feel at home, always telling good jokes. He honestly was just a great spirit here at the Way Station.” 

According to Leeser, Sanchez also had another talent that he didn’t always share with others. 

“Few people know this, but he has a very good singing voice,” he said. “After hours, he would sometimes occasionally entertain us singing stuff.” 

On the Way Station Coffee Shop Facebook page, many who knew Sanchez responded to the restaurant’s post about Sanchez’s passing, recalling similar memories, sharing how many generations of their family had been going to the Way Station and who knew Sanchez, and expressing their general sorrow for the loss. 

Longtime Way Station patron and Signal columnist John Boston said this loss was a big one for the Santa Clarita Valley. 

“With his easy-going nature, kindness and wonderful sense of humor, Jose touched the lives of literally thousands of people,” Boston wrote in an email to The Signal. “I ate there about three times a week. His son and my daughter were the same age and we always exchanged stories. Jose was a darn great dad.”  

Boston seemed honored to have known Sanchez, describing him as someone who truly loved this valley and America.  

“Late in life,” he added, “he studied — and passed — the U.S. citizenship test. Jose was so giddy and proud to become a citizen, noting how much this country had given him. Still brings tears to my eyes.” 

Shortly after Sanchez died, the restaurant set up a remembrance table at the front of the diner with flowers and pictures of Sanchez. And while the table is temporary, Boston suggested that the city of Santa Clarita do something more permanent. 

“There are streets named after politicians and movers and shakers of questionable character,” Boston said. “But Jose was able, day in, day out, (to) perform a saintly life of serving in ordinariness. He did it with humility, joy and a smile. I would solemnly suggest to everyone at City Hall that Jose Sanchez deserves a bronze star in the sidewalk of downtown Newhall.” 

According to Leeser, the family has no plans, as of the publishing of this story, for Sanchez’s service. Leeser did say that the restaurant would be interested in hosting a remembrance event there. 

“I’ve certainly offered to the family that, if they’d like to do something here,” Leeser said. “I know a lot of people would probably be interested in doing something like that. But that’s up to the family.” 

The Way Station is located at 24377 Main St. in Old Town Newhall. Anyone wishing to contribute to the Sanchez family to help with funeral expenses can do so by adding to a donation jar that the restaurant has provided. 

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