Oct 11, 2019, Jeff Gardner, Inside Tucson Business
Article originally published by Inside Tucson Business
Along with building their empires, two immigrants give back to the Tucson community
Although born on opposite sides of the world, Humberto Lopez and Kwang An share many similarities. Both grew up in poverty, immigrated to the United States, built successful businesses and are now giving back to Tucson, the city they call home.
An has founded multiple restaurants throughout Tucson, such as Sakura and Mr. An’s, and Lopez is president of HSL Properties, which mainly manages multi-family apartment communities. They first connected when Lopez visited An’s restaurants around Tucson, and have remained good friends for nearly 40 years. While their respective industries don’t often overlap, they have collaborated multiple times when giving back to the community. Each gained a drive for philanthropy early on, due to their mutually challenging upbringings.
An grew up in a small town in South Korea, selling cigarettes and other sundries to help support his family. He saved money for years, hoping to move to the United States for better opportunities in life.
“I grew up very poorly,” An said. “Every day, I was lucky if I had one bowl of soup.”
When he moved to the United States in 1972, he and his wife had $400 each. They first settled in Texas, where he worked manual labor. In late 1975, they moved to Tucson, and An started a dry cleaning business. He didn’t consider starting a restaurant until visiting one of Tucson’s few Asian eateries at the time, and realized he could do better.
“I found out that in the U.S., if you really wanted it bad, you can get it,” he said.
An entered the restaurant business in 1983 when he opened Great Wall of China, at 2445 S. Craycroft Road. In 1991, An sold Great Wall of China to open Sakura at 6534 E. Tanque Verde Road. Sakura offered multiple teppanyaki tables and sushi options, and was a hit—so much so that he opened a westside Sakura in 2000.
These days, the only restaurant An operates is Mr. An’s Teppan Steak and Seafood at 6091 N. Oracle Road. Despite owning many successful restaurants, he insists he isn’t a cook, but is simply a good manager. One thing he does insist on, however, is that people give back to the communities they live in.
“A lot of people think, ‘Once I get success, I’ll give back,’ but you don’t have to be successful to give back,” An said. “Some want $1 million, but once they get one million, they want two million, and once they get two million, they want three million. You’re never going to reach it. You just need a heart. Anybody can give or volunteer.”
An has raised funds for local nonprofits and charities for decades. Every year in the days before Christmas, An partners with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona to collect food and money. On the fundraising day, he stands outside Mr. An’s for more than 12 hours, and matches every dollar donated.
“I don’t want to donate to a big national corporation, I want to support local,” An said. “Tucson helped me, so I want to give back to Tucson.”
An says he is especially passionate about helping children, and has supported Tu Nidito multiple times in the past. He hosts an annual all-day fundraising event at his restaurant, which gathered more than $100,000 to support local children in need. A common donor to these fundraisers, via HSL Properties, is Lopez.
Lopez grew up in Sonora, Mexico. His father died when he was only 12, casting the family into uncertainty. They soon moved to Nogales, Arizona, where Lopez worked several jobs to help support his family, including washing dishes and field work. He saw education as “the key to the future” and enrolled in Cochise College in Douglas, before transferring to the University of Arizona and earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1969.
By 1975, Lopez formed HSL Properties, and within four years, the company owned investments in California, Colorado and New Mexico, along with multiple locations in Arizona. Now, HSL is the largest apartment owner in Southern Arizona. During this growth, Lopez and his wife Czarina started the H.S. Lopez Family Foundation to support local community charities.
“I’m a firm believer we have an obligation to give back,” Lopez said. “There’s companies that come here from out of town, make their money, and leave. I say support where you are.”
The H.S. Lopez Family Foundation supports multiple Tucson charities, including the Angel Charity for Children, La Frontera, Tucson Museum of Art League, Steele Memorial Children’s Research Center and the Catholic Community Services Foundation. Lopez says he is especially interested in donating money to health causes, because “if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.”
The main current endeavor of the H.S. Lopez Family Foundation is the new Center of Opportunity which opened on June 3. Renovated from a former hotel at 4550 S. Palo Verde Road, the Center of Opportunity is intended to be a “one-stop campus” to help Tucson’s homeless population. The Center can serve more than 1,000 free meals a day and includes 350 beds for those without a place to sleep. More than temporary help, the Center of Opportunity is also creating a workforce development center, a medical facility and a veterans’ services center on the campus.
“I grew up on welfare, so consequently, I try to help those who need it most,” Lopez said. “The whole idea behind the Center of Opportunity is not only to help the homeless, but to help those who want to get back to being productive… They need to be treated with dignity and respect. So we treat them not as homeless, but as clients.”
The Center of Opportunity was founded in conjunction with Gospel Rescue Mission, a Tucson-based ministry that serves the homeless. Roughly $10 million has gone into refurbishing and developing the Center of Opportunity so far, and the H.S. Lopez Family Foundation expects to double that amount in the future.
“I want to have other business owners open up their pocketbooks and give back, too,” Lopez said. “Hopefully they can see what I’m doing. You can always give back.”