After more than three decades, Porto’s Bakery and Café is still a family run business. Siblings, Beatriz, Raul Jr. and Margarita, share responsibilities around the shop.
The Porto siblings—Beatriz ’80, Raul Jr. ’84 and Margarita ’85—never planned to stay at their parent’s quaint, family bakery. Then again, they never really left.
“We just fell in love with the business,” said Beatriz, the eldest of the brother-sisters team. “It’s like a child; you have to nurture it.
And with love and caring, the siblings grew what was a small, family run bakery, into a booming business with more than 400 employees and locations in Glendale, Burbank and soon, Downey.
Sweet and savory treats—including their mother’s original potato balls, empanadas, and guava and cheese strudel recipes—at Porto’s Bakery and CafÃ© beckon customers from near and far. Each day their reputation for quality brings thousands through Porto’s doors.
“Without really working to turn the business into a landmark, a destination place, we have done just that,” Beatriz said. “We have achieved so much success and respect in the community, and we are really proud of that.”
Building a ‘destination’
Porto’s Bakery and CafÃ© opened in 1976, just a few years after the family emigrated from Cuba. Their mother, Rosa, had become well known in Cuba for her home baking and cake-decorating business.
One neighbor’s order for a birthday cake grew to become a dozen or more requests for cakes at weddings, communions and other events. Cars eventually began to line up outside of the house, and it became evident that Rosa and the family business needed space, Beatriz recounted.
Beatriz, Raul Jr. and Margarita grew up in and with the bakery. They’d come in to help after school, working as cake decorators, bakers and dishwashers. They’d roll potato balls into the early hours of the morning, and just like the kids they were, have flour and egg fights when their mom stepped away, they said.
Still, all three point out, their parents always stressed the importance of an education, and their duties in the bakery never took precedence over their studies. As a result, all three received college degrees—from Cal State L.A., no less. Raul Jr. and Margarita earned their bachelor’s degrees in business and accounting. Beatriz obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s from UCLA in the same field.
“Getting an education helped us to take this family-owned bakery to the next level,” Beatriz said. “If we hadn’t come back (after college), it would still be just a mom and pop place.”
When the siblings decided to stay at the bakery, and as they put it, to “make something happen,” they each fell naturally into their leadership roles.
Margarita, who displayed a natural gift at cake decorating—much like her mother—easily transitioned into leading that area of the bakery. Beatriz moved to the front of the shop as a teenager to assist her father who didn’t speak English, and found that she didn’t want to return to the kitchen because she cherished the interaction with customers. And Raul Jr. handled the responsibility of handling contracts, negotiations and business side of things.
“I think that since we had the ability to do what we liked, there was never a struggle for power,” Beatriz said. “Our parents did a great job of raising us and showing us that we were all equal.”
To this day, the three say, the family is as close-knit as it was when things started. They trust one another to make decisions based on what would make their parents proud and maintain a close, family–run business. (Parents Rosa and Raul, who still stop by the Glendale bakery each morning to brew coffee, officially retired in 2006.)
“When my mom started out, she was making cakes just for friends. And when you sell to your friends, you feel bad charging them—so you give them an unbeatable deal,” Raul Jr. said. “We have continued to see business that way. …We do our best to treat all of our customers as friends—family, really.”