NEENAH, Wis. (WFRV) – The Neenah community is mourning the loss of a popular restaurant owner.

Mary Lou Hernandez had been a motherly figure in the Neenah community since the 90s when she and her family opened the restaurant Zacatecas. Even though a family friend, Heidi Wenberg, purchased the business in 2009, Hernandez had been working at the restaurant until she passed away last week.

Wenberg says, “She was an integral part of not just the restaurant but my personal life as well.”

Some of the people who worked with Hernandez, including Evelin Juarez and Hernandez’s son Hector, say Mary Lou’s loving nature made an impact on everyone she met.

“It was the hardest thing that I’d ever done when I came to this country, and she welcomed me the way nobody did before,” Juarez says.

Hector tells us, “Being true to herself and who she is, is enough to make a huge impact on a community, on people, on family, and on friends.”

The Hernandez family started a GoFundMe to pay for Mary Lou’s funeral, and it has already raised more than $7,000.

Hernandez’s son Ruben says his mother had a way of making people feel accepted.

“My mom, she was the one that brought everyone there. We can say we had new customers, but most of them were regulars. Everyone was there to see Mary Lou,” Ruben says.

One of those regulars was Brian Borchardt and his family.

He says, “Every day, we’d come in, and Lou Lou, she’d give a big hug and a big kiss. I would always have a little lipstick left on my cheek. She’s just meant so much to this community because of her personality. It was the extra love that she put in that just made us feel like we were at home.”

Hector also hopes to continue his mother’s legacy.

“Being how she’d want me to be. Being kind and loving and paying it forward to others because of her love, I can never recreate it, but I can try,” Hector says.