By Laura Haefeli

STOCKTON (CBS13) — After an argument broke out between a customer and employee at El Forastero Mexican Food in Stockton, the restaurant went up in flames.

“There’s ash all over. I mean you can see on the wall. You see it right there,” said Sonia Dominguez.

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She owns El Forastero Mexican Food, and employees are now out of work.

“I have a lot of families that now won’t get their pay,” she said.

The damage is extensive and all because police say the suspect wanted a free soda but didn’t want to pay for it.

“He ordered a drink and he ordered a water,” Dominguez said.

When the employee didn’t give the man a free soda, he rode away on his bicycle. But before leaving, he used a lighter to set a fire.

“This suspect’s actions were very bold, very brazen,” said Stockton police spokesperson Joe Silva. “There was no reason for him to light that building on fire.”

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Silva said the suspect got away, and the police need the public’s help to find him.

“He may be responsible for other similar incidents in that area, in that neighborhood, and we don’t want him to do it again,” Silva said.

The cleanup will be tough for Dominguez and her family.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to open soon. Although they tell me it’s not going to be that easy,” Dominguez said.

Though, she says, if they can get through the last year, then they can get through anything.

“We were open through COVID,” she said.

Employees were able to get out of the building before the fire got any worse.

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We asked Sonia if she plans on reopening or leaving Stockton altogether. She says she hopes to open back up soon.