When Joseph Chahayed immigrated to Los Angeles from Syria in 1980, he envisioned a better life and a brighter future for his family.
His family said he has worked tirelessly toward that dream for decades — and on Tuesday, he finally received some well-earned recognition, when his Altadena gas station was awarded a $1-million prize for selling the winning $2-billion Powerball ticket. Under California's Powerball rules, the retailer that sells the winning ticket earns 0.5% share of the jackpot, with the reward capped at $1 million.
"He’s a really hard-working man," said Chahayed's son Danny Chahayed. "Seventy-five years old and he refuses to take a day off; he’s up at like 5 a.m. every day. No one deserves it as much as he does.”
The elder Chahayed said he plans to share the lottery money with his family and grandchildren, who continue to provide him the motivation and support to keep working and building community.
"All my life for them," Chahayed said. "The money is nothing — I give them my love."
Chahayed's unassuming gas station and small convenience store, known as Joe's Mobile Service on West Woodbury Road, sold the nation's only matching ticket for the record-breaking Powerball jackpot, which amassed to $2.04 billion by the time of the drawing early Tuesday.
Chahayed and his family, who help run the store, said they are hopeful the winner — who has not yet come forward — is a local to Altadena. Along with Chahayed's check, state schools will get $156.3 million in funds from this Powerball drawing, a point for which Chahayed was most excited.
“I’m happy for California; I’m happy for L.A.,” Chahayed said Tuesday after learning he sold the winning ticket. “I’m more happy for Altadena. There are a lot of poor people here; they deserve it.”
Chahayed has run his family-owned gas station in the northeastern foothills community of Los Angeles County for 20 years, becoming a beloved staple and friendly face to the neighborhood, especially evident Tuesday as an almost constant swarm of neighbors and customers greeted him with hugs, handshakes and requests for photos.
“Joe is the most — bar none — friendly person that I know," said Kenny Devine, a customer turned friend of Chahayed's. "I won the lottery when I met Joe, that's how I feel. ... The lottery of life."
Devine said he first became friends with Chahayed when the owner accidentally gave him too much change after a purchase, and Devine came back to the store to return the extra cash. In the years since, he said Chahayed was there to comfort him after his wife died, and has let him set up a pop-up shop in the gas station's parking lot for jeans he designs.
Devine's sister chimed in about how Chahayed had at times loaned her money if she came up short. Another man who stopped by called Chahayed a "good man," while another had his young son shake the gas station owner's hand.
“People call me Papa Joe because I treat all the people in the neighborhood like my family," Chahayed said. "When you treat customer with respect and dignity, they will keep coming to you, they will be loyal to you. We treat the customer like family.”
He remained a bit in awe of the excitement around the lottery announcement Tuesday, but said it won't change his plans or how he runs his business.
“I love it. I never get tired," Chahayed said. He showed up Wednesday to open the store as usual, and said this weekend he will continue to help the West Hollywood church he attends to prepare and serve food to people who are unhoused.
"He’s here at 6 and he doesn’t leave until we kick him out," his son Joe Chahayed Jr. said. “He could have retired a long time ago, but he’s a people person.”
The priest at his church, St. Anne Melkite Catholic Cathedral, said Joseph Chahayed never misses a Sunday and will often donate needed supplies — never expecting anything in return.
"He’s very dedicated to the church and the community," Father Dimitri Saliba said. "Next Sunday my homily is going to be on him: He’s living proof that when you give, God will give you back. ... He doesn’t think of himself.”
Chahayed said it was crazy to think about the chances of selling such a lucky ticket — much less buying it.
"When they told me, I didn't believe it," Chahayed said. "That's a lot of money."
California Lottery spokesperson Carolyn Becker said Wednesday that she wouldn't be surprised if the winner doesn't claim the jackpot for a few months. They have a full calendar year to come forward.
“With an amount of money like this, especially, our best advice is to seek professional help: financial advisors, an attorney," Becker said. "Someone to help you navigate what it means to come into incredible amounts of money — we’re talking about a life-changing amount of money.”
The name of the winner — who became California Lottery's first billionaire — will eventually become public under state law, but further details about them will not, Becker said. Unless the winner decides to go public, she said, the only other information Californians will learn would be how the winner chooses to accept the money, either in a lump sum or in installments.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.