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Ruben’s Bakery survived pandemic but not street takeover

Nearly a decade after emigrating from Mexico, Ruben Ramirez Sr. and his wife, Alicia, had opened the business that would provide for their family for years to come.

It was the ’70s, and they started small. First came a store selling Mexican products. They later expanded to a carniceria — a meat market — and a bakery.

Ruben’s Bakery & Mexican Food in Compton took years to build. But it was destroyed within minutes just before sunrise Tuesday. That’s when a mob of more than 100 people robbed the bakery during an illegal street takeover at the intersection of El Segundo Boulevard and North Santa Fe Avenue, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Ruben Ramirez Sr., 83, enters Ruben’s Bakery & Mexican Food Inc. in Compton as a worker makes repairs to his storefront on Jan. 4, 2024.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Surveillance video showed people taking cash registers, an array of food and refrigerated items, whatever was in their vicinity.

“We’ve been here 40 years,” said Ruben Ramirez Jr., 51. “We survived the Rodney King riots, the pandemic and other stuff that happens here and there. Never did I think this would happen to us.”

The estimated damage is upward of $70,000, an economic impact that will put a dent into a business that had already been struggling since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ramirez Jr. said. Beyond repairs, the business will be underprepared as they navigate their busy season, including Día de Los Reyes Magos, or Three Kings Day, on Saturday.

“I have mixed feelings; sometimes I’m really mad, sometimes I’m sad,” Ramirez Jr. said. “My dad is 83 years old. He’s the one that started it. And to see him looking at the chaos we came into [Jan. 2], that just broke my heart.”

Neighborhood residents said this week that although they’re used to weekly street takeovers, with car doughnuts and burnouts, Tuesday’s rampage was unlike anything they’ve seen before.

A man, left, wearing glasses and an olive vest with the word Sheriff speaks to a woman inside a store

A sheriff’s deputy speaks with a member of the Ramirez family about the recent break-in at Ruben’s Bakery & Mexican Food Inc. in Compton on Jan. 4, 2024. The store was ransacked after a street takeover two days earlier.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Deputy Miguel Meza, a Sheriff’s Department spokesperson, said law enforcement received calls at 3:25 a.m. of a “burglary in progress” at Ruben’s Bakery & Mexican Food, as well as a street takeover at the nearby intersection.

Meza said street takeovers entail a crowd of people blocking an intersection and using the area for street-racing stunts. Tuesday’s crowd left skid marks on the road from car doughnuts and set off a fire in the middle of the intersection, feeding it with dried-out Christmas trees that residents had left on the sidewalk.

Outside surveillance video showed a white Kia Soul reversing into the store’s door as the crowd circled the entrance. The vehicle struck the door two more times. A woman stepped in front of the vandals, appearing to prevent people from entering the store by stretching her arms outward and pushing them away. Inside the store, the thieves piled food in their arms, rummaging through shelves and the front counter.

After receiving a phone call from the store’s alarm company, Ramirez Jr. said he headed to the bakery about 25 minutes after the rampage. On his drive over, he said, he saw the store’s grocery baskets littering the street.

He arrived to find cash registers missing, money stolen, chips and groceries spilled over the floor.

“My stomach dropped,” he said.

Ramirez Jr. said he’s grateful for the police’s quick response, noting that there was law enforcement on the ground by the time he arrived.

Meza said deputies initially had difficulty reaching the location because of the blocked streets. However, Hugo Castillo, a baker at the store, said he did not struggle getting to the establishment for his shift around the time of the burglary. Upon seeing the horde of people, Castillo said, he moved away from the business.

For the time being, Castillo is without work until the store can open again. The violence that occurred doesn’t shake him, he said, because he’s been assaulted and robbed before.

Josue Gonzalez, a cashier at the General Liquor Store next door, also said he wasn’t intimidated by the takeover, but expressed concern that his own establishment might not withstand looting.

No creo que vaya aguantar,” he said, pointing to the metal security gates. “I don’t think it would hold.”

A woman with a black apron holds a can while standing before shelves lined with cans of food

A worker at Ruben’s Bakery & Mexican Food Inc. restocks the shelves on Jan. 4, 2024, after a recent break-in and robbery at the family-run business in Compton.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Car doughnuts and burnouts are common in the neighborhood, which is divided by Santa Fe Avenue into Lynwood and Compton, said Geraldo Ortiz, a longtime resident.

Ortiz said that on the Lynwood side, there have been calls for more street safety in recent years. Lately, he said, the community has been collecting signatures for a red light or stop sign at the Banning Avenue and Santa Fe intersection, which is a block down from where Tuesday’s street takeover took place.

Ortiz said he frequently would stop by at Ruben’s Bakery on his way to work, where he would grab a bolillo and a cup of coffee.

Ramirez Jr. said the neighborhood has rallied behind the bakery since the looting. Members are pouring donations into the store’s GoFundMe account, writing comments such as “We need those bolillos!!” and “Community showing up for each other is a beautiful act of kindness.”

City officials are also contributing toward the restoration.

“We need to support our local businesses and ensure that criminals know we will not tolerate the destruction of our beloved local establishments, which are the backbone of our city,” City of Compton Councilmember Andre Spicer said in a statement. “Our office has donated supplies, including paint to cover all the graffiti, to the business, helping them restore their store before 3 Kings day.”

Their words have uplifted the family during a time of need. Normally, the business would have had about 100 orders of roscas — a circular pastry that’s a traditional part of Three Kings Day celebrations. Now, they are baking as much as they can ahead of Friday’s opening.

“Our goal for the future is to be back in business just like if it was Dec. 31,” said Ramirez Jr.

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