Lily Castro, founder of Lily’s Café, is the recipient of this year’s Harvey Baskin Dolphin Award for Malibu business leaders. The Point Dume café is a favorite among locals, and for Castro, it’s her “everything.”
“I’m very happy that I am in Malibu,” Castro said. “Everybody’s like my family.”
Castro moved to the United States from El Salvador at 17 to pursue the American dream, opening Lily’s Café shortly thereafter. Castro’s husband, whom she describes as a “hardworking man,” was approached with an opportunity to run the quaint restaurant — formerly a donut shop. Castro’s passion for cooking and a few suggestions to beef up the menu led the couple to transforming it into a full-fledged eatery.
“I started doing little things for my customers — like little burritos — and they loved it,” Castro said. “And they said ‘Lily, you have the touch to cook.’ And then we got the idea to make the restaurant.”
About 25 years later, Lily’s Café is considered a staple in Malibu’s restaurant scene. Lily’s features the popular Hispanic cuisine items Southern Californians seek, but the carefully crafted menu isn’t the only thing pulling in customers. Castro’s love for her customers and dedication to running a successful business are the top selling points.
“I come every day, see people — sometimes grumpy, sometimes happy — but I love it,” Castro said. “I socialize, and it’s everything. Malibu is one of those places where they love you, or they don’t love you. If they love you, you are in business, but you have to work hard every day to get to the point where everybody loves you and misses you.”
Castro experienced that very love from her customers when she took time off from work to battle breast cancer in May of last year. Her typical 12-14 hour a day shifts dwindled to just two to three hours to accommodate chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and customers showed just how much they missed her presence.
“When I got sick, everybody worried,” Castro said. “I got phone calls. And I had to tell them that I’ll be back, but when they saw me, I loved it.”
Castro’s cancer may have slowed her down physically, but her desire to serve the Malibu community is strong as ever.
“It’s not because I need the money — because money’s important, but it’s not everything,” Castro said. “It’s because I care. I want everybody to be happy. And if there’s a complaint, I can fix it. It’s not about money for me; it’s about doing what you love.”