VISTA — Charlie Harb never knew how many friends he had until he really needed them.
The owner of Allen’s Alley since 1985, his food and his face have become virtual icons in Vista.
Last August, the married father of two was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer with an 85 percent chance of mortality within 18 months. Supporters came out of the woodwork to help, culminating in the Friends For Charlie Harb Benefit Golf Tournament on Jan. 17.
Sixty-five golfers teed off in the warm sun at San Luis Rey Downs Golf & Country Club in Bonsall, some from as far as Solana Beach. One hundred dinners were sold, the food contributed by downtown businesses. At the end of the day, $10,000 had been raised.
“It was a really, really awesome experience how the community pulled it together,” event promoter Eleanor Hutchins said. Hutchins has worked next door to Harb since the late 1970s. “To be able to help him was just amazing … He’s like my kid.”
Harb’s sister Nina Payne said she was not surprised to see so many people show up in support of her ailing brother. “Charlie’s been so ingrained in the community, and he’s always been so gracious and helped out the community whenever he could,” she said. “Allen’s Alley is kind of like Cheers, ‘Where everybody knows your name.’ They are more than customers to him, more like family.”
“If you know Charlie, you walk into his restaurant, it’s like walking into his house, at his kitchen table,” Ken Ries, who came up with the tournament idea, said.
Harb has a long road ahead of him. He was unable to attend the tourney after the latest round of chemotherapy left his immune system particularly weak. While the tumors in his lung and lower back have shrunk considerably, doctors have given him a grim prognosis. Harb maintains a positive attitude, in large part thanks to the support he’s gotten.
“It makes me feel wonderful,” Harb said. “It gives me more reason to want to fight this silly thing.”
Cancer is an expensive illness, and Harb’s PPO insurance plan will only cover so much.
Still, it wasn’t easy convincing him to accept any charity. When a friend ran a half-marathon for him and raised $3,500, Harb asked that he donate the money to the Lung Alliance to help all cancer victims. Even now, the funds raised are going into a trust fund for his children’s education rather than to pay medical bills.
“As long as we can bear (the cost), we’re going to try,” Harb said.
Ries said there are tentative plans to make the golf tournament an annual event. Until then, donations are still being accepted at 930 E. Vista Way or donated directly to San Diego National Bank at 245 Vista Village Drive care of “Friends for Charlie Harb.”
Information about upcoming events can also be found at http://allensalleycafe.com/.