Professor for a Day: Raul Porto


Raul Porto

The first rule of starting a business is recognizing what will be lost if this investment fails. There’s the potential of losing time, money, or resources, but entrepreneurs must be content with the negative result. Once they’ve accepted this, then they can make that jump. Cal State L.A.’s Adjunct Instructor and Consultant for the Entrepreneurship Department, Barney Santos says, “A business is created to solve people’s problems.” If a customer comes in hungry, feed them, if they need something fixed, fix it, if they just need a place to sit and have an affordable meal, get them your most comfortable chair and the most delicious potato balls in Los Angeles. The Porto family has done just this.  

We knew we had to treat our customers and employees with respect and always wanted to do something spectacular for them. That’s what our parents instilled in us...

In 1960, Rosa and Raul Porto packed up their three children and emigrated from Cuba to the United States with only the clothes on their back and recipes that would eventually change the way Californian’s eat. The family poured their savings into renting a tiny shop in Silver Lake to sell Rosa’s pastries and cakes. 30 years later, the Porto children, Raul, Betty, and Margaret, helped transform that small bakery into the number one retail bakery in the world.

With the help of his sisters, Cal State L.A. alumni and current CEO of Porto’s Bakery and Café, Raul Jr. has done an incredible job of expanding the business, yet still maintaining the ethics and quality their mother put into the bakery back when it first opened. Porto has managed to keep the business thriving in Los Angeles— the most competitive area for up and coming businesses. In an interview with Ron Kaye, Raul Porto says, “We knew we had to treat our customers and employees with respect and always wanted to do something spectacular for them. That’s what our parents instilled in us.” Ever since Porto’s opening 1976, the bakery managed to surpass all competition in their area and has ranked #5 in the peer restaurant review list of 100 places to eat in the country.

Raul Porto

On November 5, 2015, Raul Porto spoke to College of Business & Economics students where he answered questions about starting a business in Los Angeles. “Operating a business is like playing a sport, you always have to keep improving yourself to get to where you want. Now when we first started expanding Porto’s, a friend of mine told me we’ve hit on something that’s special, improve it, and don’t change it,” said Porto, “We took that advice and over time we improved little things about the business without cheapening our brand. We don’t want to be a chain bakery because with chains you lose that personal connection with your customers. I think the source of our success is that we listen to our customers and try to be the lowest cost producer, while still maintaining our quality.”

The key to starting a business is knowing whom you’re selling for and how to avoid being overshadowed by other businesses. Barney Santos says, “What you have to ask yourself is why do you want to enter into a extremely competitive business industry and how can you stand out from the rest of the competition so much that you are no longer competing?”

Everything you do must be associated with action oriented activities...Ideas are worthless unless combined with an action...

One way to distance yourself from other businesses is through innovative thinking. When starting a business, work with a diverse group of people who have the passion and knowledge to help take the business to the next level. It’s not the CEO of a company that makes the business successful; it’s the people who were there from the beginning. “Everything you do must be associated with small action oriented activities that ultimately move you forward towards achieving your goal,” says Santos, “Ideas are worthless unless combined with an action.”  

Portos' bakery

There is no good luck charm or magic spell to make a business successful. Like Porto’s, it takes years, education, and hard work to get a business off the ground. However, there is no downside to having a deeper knowledge on how to operate a business. People who first start a business may not have the resources to hire a professional who knows about finances, management, or marketing. An entrepreneur must take on the roles themselves, therefore its highly encouraged for them to educate themselves while beginning their entrepreneurial journey. That way they can connect theoretical knowledge to practical wisdom

In the end, it’s really about dedication and perseverance. Your ideas will never make it far if you don’t act on them. Fittingly, from one CEO to the next, Raul Porto ended the night with this helpful piece of advice, “I feel like you guys are blessed to be living in a country where everything is possible. Don’t hold yourself [back] and just move forward. It doesn’t matter where you come from, the color of your skin, or your gender, once you’re ready, make that jump.”