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Originally published Sunday, May 4, 2014 at 6:20 AM

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Edgar Martinez, Gene Juarez raise funds — and fun

Both well-known Seattle names, Edgar Martinez and Gene Juarez are not only good friends, they are a potent philanthropic team.


Seattle Times columnist

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When you first see them together, it makes no sense.

One is on a first-name basis with the entire city: “Edgar.” People sung it from the stands at the Kingdome and Safeco like they were calling a kid in for dinner. He is the designated hitter who swung and sweated through 18 seasons with the Seattle Mariners, kicking up dirt and sliding into base.

The other is the polished spa magnate whose name connotes beauty, luxury and afternoons spent being primped and pampered. For more than 40 years, his name has been a place, a respite in a robe and towel.

And yet, Edgar Martinez and Gene Juarez are a perfect pair in both business and philanthropy.

They are investing partners in El Zacatecano mezcal, even traveling together to Mexico to visit the plant where it is made.

In 2005, they helped found Plaza Bank, aimed at the state’s growing Hispanic community. Juarez is the bank’s director.

And next week, Martinez and Juarez will be front and center at the annual Celebrity Waiters Luncheon, a raucous, themed fundraiser than benefits The Millionair Club Charity.

Martinez will receive a community service award from Juarez, who is chairman of the luncheon’s board of directors.

Martinez, 51, whose own Martinez Family Foundation has him warming a seat at charity functions all over the region, hadn’t been to the Celebrity Waiters Luncheon until last year.

“It’s an amazing event,” Martinez said. “The funniest event I’ve ever been to. It’s a celebration and a pretty cool way to raise money.”

Said Juarez: “It’s a fun raiser, and a fundraiser.”

For 28 years, the Celebrity Waiters Luncheon benefited the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Two years ago, the society broke ties with the event and started a fundraiser centered on recognizing an individual.

That left open the popular, themed luncheon, where each table is decorated by its creative captain, who fills it with friends and empty wineglasses that never stay that way once the doors open. It is a raucous, annual event that once raised $650,000 in two hours.

Juarez, 71, took over the event two years ago, assembling a board of directors that rebranded it, then reviewed a long list of nonprofits before making a three-year commitment to The Millionair Club Charity.

“We reviewed their cause, stability and their volunteerism,” Juarez said. “We knew we could help them expand their brand.”

And their bank account.

Last year — its first year — the luncheon raised $425,000; the “Raise the Paddle” portion alone generated enough to get 75 homeless people off the street, clean and sober, through job training and into the workforce.

“Their mission and what they do is a really good fit,” said Suzanne Hight, the luncheon’s executive director.

So, too, are Juarez and Martinez, who both came from little and built big, successful careers, then moved into philanthropy.

Martinez retired from baseball in 2004, the same year Juarez sold his chain of eight Gene Juarez Salons & Spas (it has since grown to 10), two training academies and an advanced training salon to Evergreen Pacific Partners. He remains a consultant.

They see each other two or three times a month, usually over a glass of their “Zac” mezcal. Martinez drinks it on the rocks or straight (“it’s a really smooth mezcal; most don’t taste smooth”); and Juarez sips it “like a Scotch.”

“Gene is someone who knows a lot about business and life,” Martinez said of his friend. “He has so much knowledge and has shared a lot with me.”

Martinez was born in New York City and raised in Puerto Rico. Juarez was born and raised in Eastern Washington. They both know the struggles of the Hispanic community, and are looking for ways to make things better. Beyond establishing the Plaza Bank, they are about to invest in an automobile leasing company.

“There are a of lot injustices,” Juarez said. “(Hispanics) get charged an arm and a leg to lease a car, and we are trying to stop those abuses.”

In 2008, Martinez and his wife, Holli, established The Martinez Foundation, a nonprofit which trains and supports teachers of color through scholarships and promoting social-justice curriculum.

“I take the awards and (Holli) does the work,” Martinez said with a laugh. “It’s not like I’m really, really busy. I spend more time talking to people, trying to get items for the auction.”

Aside from their business partnerships, Juarez just likes hanging around with Martinez.

“It’s fun to be in town with Edgar,” he said. “He’s a real icon in the community. People know my brand, but they don’t know my face. Edgar is his brand. He’s one name.”

But when the brand and the name get together, the money — and the help — isn’t far.

Nicole Brodeur: nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.



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About Nicole & Co.

Every Sunday, I bring you a conversation with a local who is doing something great, or a great who is doing something local: media personalities, big thinkers, visiting artists, colorful characters and doers of all kinds.
nbrodeur@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2334

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