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Ron Kaye: Porto's - An American success story

April 01, 2011|By Ron Kaye

Joan Crawford won an Oscar in 1945 for her portrayal of Mildred Pierce, a Glendale mother who survived the collapse of her comfortable middle class life in the Great Depression and achieved fame and success on her skills as a homemaker — specifically, her pie-baking genius.

It's a dark and melodramatic movie, now an HBO mini-series that started last Sunday.

But the real-life story of a Glendale mother who came to America with nothing but the clothes on her back and built a spectacularly successful business on her skills as a homemaker — specifically, her cake-baking genius — is anything but a tear-jerker.

It is an inspiring story that ought to be a movie. It can teach us all something about the simple virtues of humility, hard work, honesty, ethics and, most of all, the determination to overcome disadvantages and meet every challenge.


It is the story of Porto family, of how Rosa and Raul Porto fled Cuba in 1970 with their three small children — Beatriz, Raul Jr. and Margarita — and how the family went from selling cakes baked in their kitchen to owning one of the most successful bakeries in America, with customer lines that never seem to empty.

It is the story of what family values really mean.

Leaning back in a chair in the upstairs meeting room at Porto’s Burbank store, Raul Jr., now 50, talks about the family’s journey and how the Portos came to live the American dream.

“We’ve been blessed in business, blessed in life,” Porto says. “We were just staying alive at the beginning. It took a long time to get traction. The whole family worked hard. We still do.”

A 1966 picture at the entrance of Porto's Burbank store gives no clue about the hardships Rosa and Raul Sr. were facing in Castro’s Cuba. It is the picture of a celebration, with the beaming young Porto children behind the most beautiful birthday cake you have ever seen, with a second cake rising in an inverted cone to be a fairy princess.

Grandma Porto already had managed to start a new life in Los Angeles by then. Rosa and Raul Sr. were about to apply to leave for family reunification, a decision that cost them their jobs and forced Rosa, a home economics teacher, to turn to baking cakes for sale to help the family survive.

The family arrived penniless in Miami and flew to Los Angeles when Raul Jr. was 10.

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