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'We will feel the absence': Brandon man's life and legacy remembered by community

Ben Hernandez is pictured in his Brandon restaurant, Benny's . (Source: Rob Lovatt - Keywest Photo image by design inc.) Ben Hernandez is pictured in his Brandon restaurant, Benny's . (Source: Rob Lovatt - Keywest Photo image by design inc.)
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Ben Hernandez's favourite place to be was the front of his restaurant. There he would greet customers by name – he never forgot a name – and chat about the Toronto Maple Leafs as he welcomed customers with a warm smile like they were a part of his family.

Now, his presence is absent at the restaurant as members of the community remember the legacy and lessons he left behind.

Hernandez, the owner of Benny's Restaurant in Brandon, died on Sept. 29.

"He was a kind, loving husband, and father and grandfather," his wife Debbie Hernandez told CTV News. "He loved life every day. He got up and it was a new day, and he started it fresh and always positive."

Hernandez grew up in the hospitality industry. When he moved to Canada from Qumbiya Quindo, Colombia, at the age of 15, he started working at a Greek restaurant. He would spend the rest of his life in the hospitality industry.

"He always did want to own his own restaurant and this dream came true," Debbie said.

Hernandez moved to Brandon in 2002 where he opened Remington's restaurant, and in 2016, opened his own restaurant, Benny's.

"He loved the front of the house because he liked to greet people. He knew people by their names. He would never forget your name. If he'd seen you once, he'd always remember your name," Debbie said.

Ben Hernandez stands with his wife Debbie, and his two daughters Elizabeth Hernandez and Natalie Bell, outside his restaurant in Brandon. (Submitted)

But Hernandez's impact on the community went far beyond his business – something his family saw firsthand when the community learned of his death, prompting an outpouring of memories and tributes have been pouring in from the community.

"The first weekend as we were sitting together as a family, we were watching everybody express their sorrow and sadness," one of his two daughters Natalie Bell said. "He wasn't just a business owner; he was a friend, he was involved in the community so much more than we realized."

Dozens of messages, posts and pictures shared on social media give a glimpse at the love Ben's community had for him. Memories of his huge smile and warm hugs, stories of how he would go out of his way to help his community.

Among those sharing those memories was Shannon Skidmore, the front-of-house manager at Lady of the Lake Shop Café and Pub.

She first met Hernandez while working at a bowling alley where he played. She would serve him and a friendship was quickly struck.

"Ben was outgoing. He was friendly. He definitely was one of those people that when you're serving him, you feel more like you're hanging out with a friend than taking care of a customer."

He eventually offered her a job at Remington's where she worked with and learned from Hernandez for about two years. She said the lessons he taught her during that time still stick with her.

"The cheesiest thing and I think and the most impactful thing he ever taught me was to never say goodbye, to always say, 'See you next time,'" she said, a saying that goes beyond customer experience.

"That's always been the greatest thing that's always stuck with me is to say, 'See you next time.'"

Ben Hernandez is pictured in his Brandon restaurant, Benny's . (Source: Rob Lovatt - Keywest Photo image by design inc.)

She says it was a shock when he passed away. She had been speaking on the phone with him just a week earlier, asking for advice – something she said he was always happy to give.

"We will feel the absence with him gone," she said. "I just really hope that everyone will continue on his legacy, continue on with those lessons that he taught everyone, and really make him proud."

As for his restaurant, his family says it is actively up for sale, as Hernandez had been planning to sell the business and move into retirement. In the meanwhile, the family continues to run the business – trying to fill Ben's shoes – something his family says takes all four of them to do.

"He was definitely proud of his family and his business, and we're lucky enough to be a part of it and get to see how well loved and respected he is and was and always will be," Bell said. 

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