GOWANUS — Smoked meat lovers are drooling over the new Dinosaur Bar-B-Que opening soon on Union Street, but local resident Yvonne Vasquez is celebrating the restaurant's arrival for a more personal reason.
On Sunday, an artist painted a giant portrait of her son Raul on the restaurant's exterior, on Union Street between Third and Fourth avenues. The block is also known as Raul Vasquez Place in honor of Vasquez, who was shot to death there on July 31, 1995.
The crime remains unsolved and Yvonne Vasquez has made it her mission to keep her son's memory alive.
She commissioned a memorial mural shortly after his death, and it stood untouched for nearly 20 years. Now the block is one of many that's seeing changes as Gowanus is becoming a magnet for new restaurants and real estate developers. The old mural honoring Raul Vasquez Jr. had to be torn down to make way for a window at the new restaurant.
But Dinosaur Bar-B-Que owner John Stage paid for a new version of the mural to be painted just a few feet away from its original spot, a gesture that moved Vasquez close to tears on Monday.
"There are still good people in the world," Vasquez said. "He didn't have to do this."
Vasquez's family and friends gathered on Sunday to witness the new mural's creation. The painting shows an angel beaming rays of light onto Raul's face.
"It's amazing," Vasquez said. "I am very happy."
Raul, her first-born son, was a "tall, dark and handsome" young man who was extraordinarily close to his mother, Vasquez said. The two worked together at Vigilante Plumbing on Douglass Street. Raul loved playing basketball and teaching the game to younger kids on his close-knit block.
He was 21 when he was shot for unknown reasons by an assailant who was never caught.
"He was a loving son, a loving brother," Vasquez said. "All the guys loved him, but unfortunately there was someone out there who did not love him."
When barbecue fans come to eat at Dinosaur, Vasquez said they'll see her son's picture and realize he was someone worth remembering.
"They're going to say, 'This guy was a special guy,'" Vasquez said.
Aside from new art, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is also bringing jobs to the neighborhood when it opens this spring. The restaurant, which will have 238 seats, started hiring last week and is seeking applicants for about 140 positions, said vice president of operations Scott Kleckner.