At 1 a.m. on Wednesday, July 7th, the San Luis Oriental Market was robbed. According to the security footage, within a minute, three individuals broke through the front door and stole money from the store’s safe before making their exit.
The family-owned Asian grocery store opened in San Luis Obispo 29 years ago and is owned by married couple Peter and Fani Gau.
“We took over from my parents about four years ago,” Peter said.
The reaction from the couple was one of anger and surprise, but overwhelming shock, Peter said.
Now, the fear of another robbery lingers, but updated security and precautions ease some of these worries, Peter Gau said.
The pair also spoke to other local businesses and shared their story on social media to raise awareness. They also hoped to find and hold the perpetrators accountable. According to San Luis Obispo police, the safe has since been recovered at the bottom of the Cuesta Grade, but the suspects have not yet been found.
As of July 13, the store’s post received 28,000 views and almost 200 comments.
According to Peter, although the market had not been robbed before, these robberies are not new.
“It actually happened to Hoagies a few weeks ago,” he said. “It happened to two other businesses in Pismo Beach the night before ours, and I heard there was also a break in at the Asian market in Santa Maria.”
The SLO Police Department corroborated there were three instances on the Central Coast at the same time frame on the morning of July 7th that they believe to be the same suspects. They also said rumors that these individuals were targeting Asian markets are untrue. The SLO police are now working with other departments on the Central Coast to identify the suspects and combine the cases.
Michelle Barrera, owner of EnjoySLO, a community calendar that compiles events and activities in SLO county, is a friend and frequent customer of the Oriental Market.
Upon hearing the news of the robbery, Barrera’s heart went out to the owners.
“I was so heartbroken,” Barrera said. “[Co-owner] Fani is such a warm, loving member of our community.”
The dedication to their customers sets the market apart, Barrera said.
“What’s special about the SLO Oriental Market, that people don’t know, is if you request something from Fani, she’ll really put so much effort into finding these imported products just because people requested,” Barrera said.
Barrera paid a visit to the store after she heard news of the robbery, and she described her visit as filled with “love.”
“So many customers, one after the other, were coming in,” Barrera said. “Fani was very emotional. She was crying at the store but staying strong and opening despite that. She got a smile on her face and greeted everyone like she normally would.”
Barrera said this image serves as a testimony to what this family means to the community — strength and love.
Kasey Main, communications coordinator for SLO Food Co-op, a community-owned grocery store, said this news hit home since the market is close by and Main personally knows the owners.
As communications coordinator, Main recently visited the store to meet with the owners and show their support.
“They’ve always been really supportive of us, too,” Main said. “We’ve talked on social [media] together and that just shows us they’re there for people and not just to sell product. That’s what we look for in our grocery store.”
Main said it is obvious the community loves going to the market, especially since their unique selection isn’t found elsewhere.
The market will remain resilient through this with the help of the community, Main said.
“Out of the fear of that will come love and support,” Main said. “So whatever those people were trying to steal, all we can do is show love for them and show love for the market.”
As the owner of San Luis Oriental Market, Peter said their success traces back to unwavering community support. After growing up in San Luis Obispo, he came back to raise a family here about five years ago.
“There was a reason why we came here, and the community was one of the biggest reasons,” Peter said.
During the pandemic and currently, the community not only rallied behind their business, but many local businesses.
“Our doors are still open through the hardest times and we made it,” Peter said. “We wouldn’t be here without them.”
Peter said he is appreciative for all the support now and moving forward.
“Everyone from small businesses on social media, every comment, every gesture, every client or customer coming into our store and making a purchase really means a lot to us,” Peter said.