Conventional wisdom says a busy restaurant is a good restaurant, and an empty restaurant is probably empty for a reason. Porto’s Bakery & Cafe — with locations in Glendale, Burbank and Downey — has lines out the door almost all day long.
“It’s like this pretty much all the time,” said Betty Porto, daughter of bakery founder Rosa Porto, on a recent visit to the Downey location.
The Porto family immigrated to Los Angeles from Cuba in the 1970s. The family’s success story began out of necessity — both Rosa and her husband, Raul, lost their jobs when they requested emigration to the U.S. Baking cakes out of their home allowed the family to persevere while their emigration request was processed.
When the family finally landed in Los Angeles, Rosa was amazed to find that her reputation as a baker had preceded her with the local Cuban community.
“My mom was running the bakery out of the house. All of us kids helped with different jobs,” said Betty. “Often, there was nowhere to sit — every table, chair and bed were covered with baked goods waiting for delivery. My father would come home from his regular job and then go out to do the deliveries.”
The first expansion of Porto’s Bakery was to a tiny shop in Echo Park. Then, when demand continued to increase, the bakery moved to Glendale in 1980. Rosa’s basic offerings were traditional Cuban cakes and pastries, but customers began asking for treats from other traditions. The business adapted, including French mousses and guava and cheese strudels, in addition to their signature potato balls and cheese rolls.
The Glendale bakery soon expanded and then a second bakery was launched in Burbank in 2006. A third bakery was opened in Downey in 2010.
By taking advantage of Southern California Edison’s (SCE) Savings By Design program — which supplies energy-efficiency expertise to new commercial construction projects — Porto’s has seen significant savings at its Downey location. Each year, the business has saved 15,000 kilowatt-hours.
“It has been a pleasure working with Porto’s as they are always willing to engage with me to explore new opportunities with SCE programs and services,” said Sherri Lewis, SCE account manager.
After graduating from college, Betty and her siblings, Raul Jr. and Margarita, decided to stay with the family business, each taking on specific roles. Raul Jr. focused on new product development, production improvements and quality control. Margarita joined her mom in the cake decorating area; Betty worked with her father serving customers.
In 2005, with the business in the capable hands of the second generation, Rosa and Raul retired.
Now, a third generation is preparing to take the business to new successes. Betty’s niece, Arianna, recently completed her studies at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America.
“I grew up in the Glendale bakery — literally. I got to bake with my great-grandmother, my grandmother and my aunt. So many great memories, and I learned so much. I fell in love with the business. I decided this is what I want to do.”
The family has been approached by investors seeking to franchise the business, but so far Porto’s has declined. The recipe is working, with plans to open two more Porto’s Bakeries in Buena Park and West Covina in the next two years.
“Even though we have over 800 employees, we still see ourselves as a family business,” said Arianna.
“We consider our employees, and even our customers, part of our family,” said Betty. “I believe that is our ‘secret recipe’.”