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Businesswomen hold small business workshop

November 04, 2011

Two local businesswomen shared some of their secrets to success during a workshop in Glendale on Wednesday sponsored by the business nonprofit SCORE.

Betty Porto, co-owner of Porto’s Bakery and Café, and Lilly LaBonge, founder of Sweets for the Soul, told workshops participants that the most important requirement when starting a business is that you have a passion for what you’re doing.

Porto’s mother started a baking business in the family’s Cuban home in the 1960s after she lost a good-paying job when Fidel Castro’s regime took over the country.

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The entire family was involved in the business. The family knew they wanted to leave Cuba, but it took 10 years for them to reach the U.S., Porto said.

When they arrived, they started another baking business.

Eventually, the Porto family opened a bakery on the site where the 330 N. Brand building is now located.

The city paid them to cut their lease short so construction could begin on Glendale’s first skyscraper and they moved to another site.

Now, basically located across the street from their first Glendale bakery, the Porto business has expanded to Burbank and Downey. It offers more than 300 items, including sandwiches, and has 700 employees.

Betty Porto’s brother and sister are still involved in the business.

Porto said women who are considering starting a business should make sure it’s the right time in life to undertake such a challenge. For example, if a woman is expecting a baby, it might not be the best time to launch a new business.

In Porto’s case, the family welcomed seven grandchildren in five years.

“And do you know what happened? My mother became a full-time … babysitter,” she said.

LaBonge was a producer of television commercials for many years. While the job paid well, it didn’t feed her passion.

In 2005, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and the experience put her life in perspective. She realized what she wanted to do – bake the perfect brownie.

In January 2009, she opened her first shop in Atwater Village – at the height of the recession. Because she had no experience running her own company, she didn’t know how bad the business environment was.

“Ignorance is bliss,” she said.

In 2010, her sweet confections were named  “Best Brownies,” according to Los Angeles magazine’s “Best in L.A.” list.

LaBonge is now looking to expand. She recently started taking part in a farmers’ market in Brentwood, where she hopes to open her second location in the next few years once she cultivates a customer base.

Besides passion, LaBonge said new business owners need to be patient.

“It takes time to build something from scratch,” she said.

They also need to persevere to get through the low points that always come with a new enterprise. But there is a wonderful pay-off. “You’re your own boss,” she said.

The Los Angeles County chapter of SCORE, headquartered in Glendale, provides counseling and workshops to aspiring and new business owners via mentors who have decades of business experience.

-- Mark Kellam, Times Community News

Twitter: @markkellamLA

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