Community rallies around Penguin Cafe owners

Michael and Sabrina McMurray face mounting hospital bills after discovering their only son, 11-year-old William, has an inoperable brain tumor.

July 26, 2012|By Joanna Clay
  • The 11-year-old son of the owners of the Penguin Cafe, Michael and Sabrina McMurray, has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. There will be a fundraiser for William at 6 p.m. Aug. 14 at Mozambique in Laguna Beach.
The 11-year-old son of the owners of the Penguin Cafe,… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Kelly Fontenot stood outside the Penguin Cafe on Wednesday morning, her arms full with two pitchers of freshly brewed coffee. She offered some to anyone waiting.

Almost every table was occupied, with customers enjoying the signature banana pancakes and breakfast burritos alongside the penguin kitsch that adorns the walls and counters.

"I Will Survive" played over the stereo, possibly chosen through one of the mini jukeboxes placed on the bright blue front counter.

Fontenot couldn't say whether the weekday rush was due to the normal summer uptick, or if it was due to the recent news that the owners, Michael and Sabrina McMurray, received July 14.

Just two weeks ago, the McMurrays discovered that what they assumed were concussion symptoms in their 11-year-old son William was actually a brain stem glioma, an inoperable brain tumor.


Sabrina, 41, said they first noticed something was off during an end-of-the-year baseball beach party in June, when they observed William slightly tilting his head. He eventually told them he was hit by a baseball and they attributed it to that.

However, when his birthday rolled around on July 11, family and friends said William's symptoms — which included vision, speech and motor skill issues — shouldn't be ignored. At their urging, the McMurrays took him to the emergency room the following Saturday.

William was diagnosed that same day.

At the time of his diagnosis, Sabrina had been working at the Penguin Cafe six days a week, trying to get the restaurant at 981 S. Coast Hwy. back on its feet after a two-year slump.

The McMurrays had moved to Costa Rica in 2010 for a year, and Sabrina said the move had an unfortunate effect on the family business.

"We came back 15 months ago to a restaurant that — to be fair — was drowning," she said. "They say 'You're a tradition. You can't go anywhere.' That's why we came back. The tradition has to continue."

Since the news, friends, including Fontenot, a biology teacher at Santa Ana High School, have rallied. Fontenot volunteered to take over for Sabrina.

Customers ask questions about William and how they can help. One person even brought in cardboard and markers so customers could sign a card.

"We're in a world where everyone is caught up in themselves, in their everyday stuff," Sabrina said. "The fact that they have made the time and opened their hearts is extremely heartwarming."

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