San Diego nightlife has surely changed with the coronavirus pandemic, not knowing how long this craziness will be in our everyday lives. I will predict this: I do not foresee business returning to how it used to be anytime soon — or even ever. I believe that our everyday way of living has taught us to pay more attention to what is around us and what is in front of us. Becoming more compassionate, not only for ourselves but for our fellow man, we find ourselves communicating better by looking into each other’s eyes more. Learning to redirect our everyday lives from working from home, to wearing a mask and practicing social distancing has become a major chore for the majority of most of us. Granted, there are still those who do not adhere to the rules and safety regulations. I do find myself jumping out of my car sometimes just to have to run back to get my mask. The amazing thing that I have noticed is how creative restaurants and bars are getting in order to bring back customers into their establishments. Well, one of my favorites (and one of the first to utilize their outdoor space) was Rich’s. Thanks to the brainstorming of Rich’s owner, Ryan Bedrosian, along with his beautiful, smart, and creative general manager, Leonela Martin, they have transformed Rich’s into a new and totally different atmosphere that is bringing in new customers as well as their loyal customers. I personally love going there.
I first met Leonela Catalina Martin (but most people who know her call her Leo) years ago at the former Numbers Night Club on Park Boulevard, where she was assisting with a charity event. We just hit it off and have been friends ever since. Leo is wonderful around people; she knows how to delegate and work with people to get things done. Getting to know Leo, listening to her talk about her parents with so much love and pride touched my heart. Leo was born in Northridge, California to Maria De Los Angeles, her mother a beautiful Mexican immigrant of Durango, Mexico, and her father Lawrence, an architectural engineer from New Orleans. She told me how grateful she was, thanking her parents that she was bilingual — both parents made it a priority to make sure all her siblings were fluent by speaking to them in their own first language, her mother speaking Spanish and her father English. She knew at an early age that it was a precious gift to be able to communicate in two different languages.
Leo moved to San Diego in 1991 at the age of 7 when her parents separated; she is number seven out of nine girls. Wow! She is the oldest in her set of three; her sisters and herself came in three separate sets of three. Imagine that?
Leo grew up in Rancho San Diego and attended elementary (Jamacha) and middle school (Hillsdale) there. She attended high school at The Academy of Our Lady of Peace on Oregon Street. Leo went on to attend California State University Monterey Bay. In reality, she never really loved attending school, and she only did just enough to slide by. Her true passion and interests were to be around social activities and working in her family’s Mexican restaurant, El Taco De Mexico, where she started serving tables at 10 years old. She never had any intention of working a 9-to-5 job or sitting in a cubicle somewhere. She wanted to be where the excitement was on the front line of life, engaging with people and spreading the love, which she continues still to this day; her love for socializing by working in many restaurants, bars and nightclubs is proof over the last 20 years.
Leo’s life has been a fun journey as she has had full control of who she is and where she is headed in her life and career. She considers herself extremely fortunate with her coming out process, something many LGBTQ+ people do not experience. She has never felt the need or pressure to “come out” to anyone. Her loving family has always supported her and encouraged her to be anything or anyone she chooses to be. She always felt safe enough to just be her true self, never pressured to explain or identify herself in any way. Leo does realize this is not most people’s reality and only fuels her fire in the quest of equality to arrive at a place where everyone can just be themselves without fear of just existing peacefully in their own skin.
We in San Diego are incredibly happy that Leo is currently the general manager of Rich’s Nightclub & Day Lounge, where she loves engaging and connecting with her Queer community. Leo has so much love for her Rich’s family, as she puts it: “A beautiful group of people who bring so much light to Hillcrest and beyond. Feeling privileged to be able to be a part of somewhere that is so special, a place for everyone to come and be exactly who they are, whoever they choose to be.” Leo is especially grateful to be working alongside Ryan Bedrosian to create this amazing space. He and Leo are a team like no other because they are more than a team, they are family.
What I love about Leo is that she knows the value of having her free time; you can catch her connecting with her family of nine sisters, 16 nieces and nephews, with healthy parents — they stay remarkably busy being in each other’s lives. Her father has been and will always be Leo’s hero. At 84 years young, he has lived through so many decades of change. As a black man who was born pre-civil rights movement in Louisiana, he has the life experience of someone who has seen the quest for equality on every level unfold before his very eyes. In Leo’s own words, “His knowledge and life lessons are the single reason I am who I am today. He is my mentor, my teacher, my rock and, most of all, my hero. I owe it all to him.”
Leo is not formally involved in any one charity, but can be found helping make events successful, especially when they are hosted by Rich’s. Though she would prefer to do her part on the ground level, you can catch her and her partner combing the streets of San Diego looking for hungry people to feed. They like to put packages together and hand-deliver them to people in their immediate space. She has also donated to many causes and charities that speak to her. We appreciate your support to help so many in need. With all the good she does, she counts her blessings daily to have found the love of her life, Séamus. With sparkles in her eyes and a smile as big as a rainbow, she tells me: “I know I have found the one person who will make me happy throughout my life and I am so overjoyed to walk this life with such a kind, gentle, loving, and understanding soul, my twin flame. Just another reason why I will forever be grateful to my Rich’s experience, as this is the place we met and work together.”
A true activist and someone who is not afraid to let anyone know, she speaks up loud and clear and is willing to be that voice in the journey to equality — as a proud Mexican, African American, Queer, WOMAN! She will stand and fight with her people, all people. She will fight for us! Her goal is to continue to be a voice of truth and justice to the end. She fights for anyone who has lost their voice or just needs help finding it. Leo has and will continue to remind people that Black Lives Matter.
San Diego is full of incredible human beings, I for one am so blessed that I can meet devoted people like Leo, who are full of grace, love, hard work and dedication. She knows how to bring people together to celebrate what life is truly about, which is each other. May I suggest if you have not yet experienced Rich’s Day Lounge, to go and try it. The food and drinks are refreshingly good, and the service is excellent. Plus, with all of that, you get to see and say hello to one of Hillcrest’s treasures, Miss Leo herself.
I asked Leo to leave me with a thought I could share with all of you, in her own words: “Be true, be you. This world needs YOU; it is forever marked by your presence; it would not shine as bright without your light. Do not give anyone the power to dim it! Shine even if you shine alone. In the darkness, be the light.” Thank you for shining your light on all of us. Stay beautiful and keep fighting the good fight. Get into good trouble. I love you.
If you would like to get in touch with Leo: Leonela@richssandiego.com