SAN DIEGO — Forty years ago, a 5-year-old boy in La Mesa found his home away from home at Marie Callender's. In this Zevely Zone, the owner of the restaurant invited me to a very a special celebration.
Marie Callender's is known for its pie, but it was a cake we were surrounding on this day.
"Happy Birthday J.J.," said two women dressed in Hawaiian shirts.
J.J. Ruiz was celebrating his 45th birthday. But the owner of the restaurant, Joe Flaherty says that is not what makes this story special.
"So it's his 45th birthday, but he's been coming here since he was 5 years old. So it's his 40th [year] of being a VIP and it's his 45th birthday," said Joe.
"You treat him like a VIP?" I asked.
"Yes, for 40 years. Guilty," said Joe laughing
Think about that. In 1979, JJ's parents, Alicia and John, started bringing their son here four and five times a week for something special that wasn't on the menu.
"Special people. They know when they they've been treated right. Right?," said Alicia.
J.J. was born with an extra chromosome.
"I never had this when I was growing up," said his dad John referencing a restaurant full of love and support.
"He lives for Marie Callender's. This is his life," says Theresa Grivas who is one of Marie Callender's servers and spoilers. "He is just so friendly. He knows everybody's schedule... he knows everybody's schedule better than we do."
"She works on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday," said J.J. while opening up countless presents and birthday cards.
J.J. is surrounded by the Marie Callender's staff he grew up with.
"Spencer, Jessica, Shannon, Angelica," said J.J.
He knows all of their names because they know his.
"J.J.," shouts Hal Hook, who has been watching Charger games with J.J. for 20 years.
"Just a great guy, got a good heart," said Hal.
J.J. is also an Aztec fan and shared a picture of him with basketball coach Brian Dutcher.
J.J. had two special request at his special birthday bash: lots of balloons and lots of Hawaiian shirts.
J.J.'s niece Alyssa said he has been a good uncle to her.
"He helps me when I am sad or angry," she said.
J.J. has also been a good brother to Javier.
"He's been there for me my whole life. God as my witness, I'll be there for him," says Javier.
Which is why on J.J.'s big day, everyone he loves circled their calendars to be at Marie Callender's.
"Happy birthday to you. Whoa!!" said the crowd.
If you'd like to meet J.J., you can find him most nights at Marie Callender's in La Mesa.