Caleb Orozco was 15 when he cracked a couple ribs. It was nothing major, the kind of injury any kid might sustain during their high school years. But there was a difference between Orozco and the other high school kids.

“I had a fight coming up,” he says, “and if I could still throw punches, I was gonna get in there and do it.”

Orozco started boxing competitively when he was just 11 years old. By the time he turned 20, he’d been in the ring 70 times.

“Other kids in PE class would be playing dodgeball or whatever,” he recalls, “but if I had a fight that weekend, I’d be in my garbage bag suit running around the track trying to lose that extra weight. This was in middle school.”

In the ring, he was a boxer’s boxer, a technical pugilist equipped with a snappy jab, a strong hook and a head for the fundamentals. Too young for the Golden Gloves, he competed in Silver Gloves tournaments (ages 11-15) and the Jr. Olympics, travelling nationally for competitions.

Many of the trophies Orozco earned during his eight-year amateur career can now be seen behind the bar at the Last Round Tavern in downtown San Jose. This May, Orozco set aside the gloves and faced a whole new challenge when he opened his tavern in the shell of the old Nick’s Pizza building at Eighth and Santa Clara. Gone are the checkered curtains and framed photos of Don Vito Corleone. They’ve been replaced by some of the world’s greatest fighters: Julio Cesar Chavez, Diego Corrales, Danny “Little Red” Lopez.

The son of San Jose natives, Orozco learned the restaurant trade from his father, Danny, who in 2016 opened one of the city’s hidden gems, the beloved East Side sandwich shop Genuine Heroes.

“My dad, he’s always loved cooking,” the younger Orozco says, “and people love his food. It started with his meatballs. His homemade meatball recipe is freaking killer. We had no foot traffic, and no cars driving by, but every day we had a line out the door.”

Despite its popularity, Genuine Heroes’ tenure was cut short last year when the Orozcos received an impossible rent hike. But at the Last Round Tavern, many of its most popular items, like the meatball hero and the hand-carved turkey, are getting a rematch. This time around, the menu has been rounded out by a number of signature pies that incorporate both the family’s recipes and the facilities left over from Nick’s.

“I’m fortunate because my pop did a lot of the legwork writing the recipes and creating this awesome food,” Orozco says. “He passed it over to me. Now it’s kind of my job to maintain it, do the upkeep and follow the steps.”

The Last Round opened in May, just as San Jose State University let out for the summer, and things started a little slow for the restaurant. But Orozco is playing the long game. Just like his father at Genuine Heroes, he’s investing time and care in the food, making sauces from scratch in-house, and slow-braising the meats overnight.

It’s a new endeavor for the fighter. But in a rental market as lethal as San Jose’s, he might just be one of the few with the skills set required to survive.

“All the lessons that I learned through boxing—patience, discipline, grit—that’s all kinda transferred into the business,” he says.

Even the restaurant’s name comes from his training—a phrase that has become a philosophy for Orozco in his journey from a fighter to a business owner.

“My coach would always tell me, ‘The last round is the best round.’ No matter what, in the last round you go out there and you do the best you can. If you’re in a rut, you push through. The last round is always the best round.”

The Last Round
354 E Santa Clara St, San Jose