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Raul Porto Sr., patriarch of the Porto’s Bakery empire, dies at 92

If you’ve ever held a pastel-yellow box full of Cuban pastries in Los Angeles, you’ve most likely tasted the legacy of Raul Porto Sr. On Wednesday the patriarch and co-founder of Porto’s, one of the region’s most popular bakery chains, died at the age of 92.

Porto’s company shared the news in an Instagram post late Friday morning, adding that he died peacefully, surrounded by his family. Porto and his late wife, baker and co-founder Rosa Porto, helped generations of Cuban immigrants find a taste of home and popularized regional specialties such as stuffed-and-fried potato balls, or papas rellenas; pressed Cuban sandwiches; and their “refugiados,” or guava-and-cheese pastelitos. Their pastries are so popular, even a single variety can sell tens of thousands in a month.

“Porto’s has become its own language, to the extent that its baked and hot foods no longer just represent Cuba — they’ve come to represent Los Angeles,” former L.A. Times Food columnist Lucas Kwan Peterson wrote in a review last year.

Rosa Porto died in 2019 at the age of 89. Rosa and Raul Sr. are survived by generations of Portos, including multiple grandchildren. Their three children — Beatriz, Raul Jr. and Margarita — all grew up helping out in their parents’ bakery operation, then went on to run the business themselves.

The Portos, from Manzanillo, Cuba, had hoped to move to the U.S. for years and placed themselves on a waiting list during Fidel Castro’s rule — a period that saw Raul Porto Sr. sent to a labor camp as Rosa Porto lost her job. She began baking cakes and pasteles to support the family, and carried those recipes with her when they emigrated in 1971 to build a better life for themselves.

The cake orders began immediately, and the couple sold her treats out of their home kitchen for years.

When the Portos arrived in Los Angeles, Raul Porto Sr. found work as a janitor and other jobs while his wife’s underground bakery business took off, and together they built Porto’s into an L.A. legend.

“Raul Sr. would assist whenever he could, even while working at another local bakery,” the Porto family shared on Instagram. “After several years, he was able to join Rosa full-time, dedicating himself to growing their business. Through their hard work, humility and dedication, they transformed a small family endeavor into a cherished community treasure. Known for his humble nature, Raul Sr. balanced his roles as a devoted husband, father, and businessman, inspiring all who knew him with his passion and commitment.”

The Portos’ empire began humbly with a first storefront of only 300 square feet in a Silver Lake strip mall in 1976, paid for with a bank loan. In an effort to attract customers they expanded beyond Cuban pastries to serve treats that appealed to a number of cultures — danishes, fruit tarts, muffins and more. That embrace of other items and cultures helped their bakery maintain its relevance, no doubt contributing to the local chain’s vast appeal for decades. In 1982 Porto’s relocated to Glendale, and eventually expanded to Burbank, Downey, Buena Park, West Covina and Northridge. A location is slated for Downtown Disney in Anaheim.

“We want to express our heartfelt gratitude for the overwhelming outpouring of love and support we’ve received following the passing of our beloved father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, Raul Porto Sr.,” the Porto Family said in an email to the L.A. Times. “All the kind words and shared memories have been a great comfort to us during this time of loss.

As we navigate through our grief, we are deeply touched by the affection we’ve received. Your tributes show the impact he had on so many lives, and for that, we are forever grateful. Thank you for honoring his legacy with us.”

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