At Porto’s, the long lines move rapidly (“We serve 100 people every 12 minutes,” Beatriz Porto says). A server greets you from behind the counter and politely assures you they’ll take care of anything you want to order (Cuban sandwich plates, potato balls or guava and cheese pastries visible behind the glass cases), and, once you pay, hands you an electronic pager to take to your table. Forget about those annoying devices that light up when your order is ready, Porto’s waitstaff brings your food directly to you because the pager tells them exactly where you’re seated.
“The biggest thing we learned was that customer service had to be treated the same as quality and pricing. Customer service has to have the same value,” says Beatriz Porto, vice president of community relations. “When we first started adding new locations, we had to learn how to delegate. We had to put a system in place. That was the biggest learning curve for us.”
Founded in 1960, Porto’s operates locations in Burbank, Glendale, Downey and Buena Park, and plans a fifth store to open later this year in West Covina, California.
In addition, Porto’s is launching a new “Porto’s Bake at Home” product line that will be available nationwide through online ordering on the bakery’s newly redesigned website, www.portosbakery.com. Porto says that frozen products (their famous pastries, potato balls and much more) from Porto’s Bake at Home will be shipped with baking instructions to customers across the country.
“The future is now,” she says of a valuable lesson from her brother, Raul. “The moment you stop learning, you might as well retire.”
For co-owner Raul Porto Jr., last year’s opening of their Buena Park store was different than any other because it marked the bakery’s entry into the tourism sector. The location is one block from Knott’s Berry Farm and roughly 10 minutes from Disneyland. The chic 25,000-square-foot bakery features food and beverage stations around every corner, and bakery is the star of the show: bountiful bread racks, a pastry station where artisans finish off individual pastries in full view, and a huge glass window to watch cake decorators work on marble-top, stainless-steel tables illuminated by copper light fixtures above. “It’s a spectacular impact,” Raul Porto says. “As bakers, we do all of these wonderful things, but no one ever sees it. We started thinking about baking as entertainment.”
Rosa Porto opened the family bakery’s first storefront in 1976 on Sunset Boulevard. Porto’s Bakery traces its roots to Manzanillo, Cuba, where Rosa had worked as a home economics teacher before she began to sell cakes from the family home. Rosa‘s life took an unexpected turn when her beloved Cuba suddenly fell victim to communism. They made the difficult decision to leave Cuba and as a result, Rosa Porto was immediately fired from her job and Raul Porto Sr. was taken to a labor camp. Out of a job, Rosa relied on her baking skills and began selling cakes out of her house for her neighbors and friends to support her family. Meanwhile, she unknowingly began to build up a great reputation and loyal customer base. Eventually, the Porto family was granted permission to emigrate to the United States where the next chapter of their family story began.