American Success: Porto’s Bakery and Café is an ‘Instant Hit’ In Downey

 

Betty Portos in front of some of her delectable (and delicious) pastries baked at Portos.
Betty Portos in front of some of her delectable (and delicious) pastries baked at Portos.

It is a true American business success story that just might have all of the ingredients needed for a sweet Hollywood screen play.

For the Porto Family, building a baking empire here in Southern California started back in a small garage in Communist Cuba back in the 1960’s when matriarch Rosa Porto developed “the perfect rum cake recipe.”

Betty Porto, one of three children remembered how her mom “knew exactly what it took to make the best cakes in Cuba.”

“Back then, it was against the law to bake sweet goods in Cuba, let alone sell them for a profit,” Porto told Downey Community Newspaper during a recent visit to their new spectacular bakery and restaurant in the heart of a booming downtown business district.

“My dad Raul, and my mom literally were living in fear of their lives each and every day back then. It was very tense,” Betty said.

Eventually Raul and Rosa took a young Betty and her two other siblings, Raul Jr., and Margarita, found their way out of Cuba and headed to the United States and instead of settling in the South Florida area of Miami with hundreds of thousands of other Cubans, the Porto’s headed to Southern California into a seedy rundown section of East Hollywood in 1971.

“It was horrible back then. We were exposed to a hard street life in Silverlake. The streets were littered with drugs and prostitution. But, my parents wanted to be in America, and we were going to work hard and to make it together as a family,” Betty recalled over a cup of coffee.

Rosa continued on with her cake business, and when their home could no longer accommodate the increased demand, the Porto’s opened a tiny 300-square foot bakery on Sunset Boulevard near the Sunset Junction area.

From that first day in business, the small make shift bakery landed around 50 customers.

After tirelessly working two jobs, Raul Sr. left his latter job at Van De Kamp’s Bakery and joined Rosa full time. Betty, Raul Jr., and Margarita attended local high schools and universities and also worked at the business baking, decorating cakes, preparing food, greeting customers, and most importantly, establishing the family finances.

“The place was the smallest business in the entire neighborhood, by my mom was a talented cake maker, with a passion for baking and soon we were able to move into a larger place,” Betty said.

Soon people from Hollywood caught wind of the rum flavored cakes as well as wedding, birthday and traditional quincienerra cakes.

“We were here in Hollywood. We had made it here from Cuba on the Freedom Flights and mom perfected her recipes and began developing a loyal customer base,” she said.
In the 1980’s, after graduating college, Betty, Raul Jr. and Margarita stayed on with the business each taking on more specific roles. Raul Jr. took on managing the finances and alongside his long-time co-worker and friend, Tony Salazar. He focused on new product development, production improvements, and quality control. Margarita joined her mom in the cake decorating area, and Betty managed alongside her father assisting customers.

Rosa’s Cuban cakes were soon joined by French mousses, Italian sweets, and international savories.

Customers flocked to the bakery demanding countless quantities of Cheese Rolls, Refugiados — guava and cheese strudels, and the infamous Potato Ball, space became critical. They needed bigger digs, and the family moved to a 2,000-square foot facility in Glendale and six years later to one double that size.

The bakery continued to grow and more employees where hired to handle the demand for its increasingly broad line of cakes, desserts, and Cuban Meat Pies.
Betty eventually earned her Master’s Degree from UCLA and today she oversees the marketing and public relations part of the family operation.

“We have never formally advertised in a newspaper, or radio or television. The only advertising we do is by word of mouth,” Betty said.

With the entire family’s effort, expansion to a 20,000-square foot facility took place in the 1990’s. Later, further expansion included a Café with a menu showcasing signature Cuban sandwiches and lunch favorites.

Rosa Porto is now retired, but her recipes and her high standards remain, including her motto, “quality is the number one ingredient in everything we do”.
Porto’s Bakery & Café now serves thousands of customers and employs hundreds of team members in Southern California, with a store in Glendale, a store in Burbank, and a third in the city of Downey.

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