If you thought the line at Howlin’ Rays was bad, you should try making it to any of Porto’s three area cafes on a weekend morning. The casual Cuban restaurant chain is an absolute staple for Southern California, drawing tens of thousands of diners per month eager to enjoy everything from sandwiches and salads to those addictive potato balls and pastries. But how did Porto’s get its start?
As this cool new OC Register profile will tell you, Porto’s is a family-run business in the truest sense, with some 46 years of history under its belt. Daughter Betty Porto still helps run things day to day along with her siblings, following in the footsteps of her Cuban mother who baked under Communist rule in Cuba in the 1960s. After emigrating in 1971, the family took out a loan of $5,000 to open at Sunset and Silver Lake, before pushing on to larger digs in Glendale in 1982. Now the company enjoys three fully-realized locations that serve nearly five million customers annually, with a fourth to open Wednesday in Buena Park, and a West Covina outlet still in the works.
Nearly 50 years in, the Porto’s name has become synonymous with inexpensive, quality food offered to the masses. Cubano sandwiches and potato balls are still the largest draw (alongside the prodigious pastry case), and customers routinely line up dozens deep for a chance to sit inside their sprawling cafe spaces in Glendale, Burbank, and Downey.
The latter is a massive 17,000 square foot operation that employs workers solely for line support and customer service, and often on weekends more than three dozen front of house staffers work at once just to help beat back the line of customers, buss tables, and keep everyone moving in the right direction.
The next location in Buena Park will in some ways dwarf Downey, clocking in at over three acres for the 25,000 square foot cafe building and surrounding parking lot. The store will employ some 200 people to boot, spread across four different ordering areas for pre-orders, express pastries, coffee, and the regular bakery line. West Covina will carry a similar layout and scope, but don’t expect anything to open there until 2018. In the meantime, there are still three rather handy LA-area locations to enjoy your next potato ball fix — just be sure to line up early.