It’s hard to find authentic Cuban pastries outside of South Florida or Union City, NJ, but Porto Bakery in Los Angeles is an exception. They have never forgotten their Cuban refugee roots and bake it into their delicacies.
Porto’s Bakery and the Meaning Behind Refugiados
Porto’s Bakery is an L.A. icon. But who is the family behind the bakery and the creators of the legendary guava cheese pastry—the refugiado? In an interview co-owner of Porto’s Bakery, Beatriz Porto tells us about the start of her family’s bakery at their home in Cuba, the important meaning behind the refugiado, and how Porto’s has helped support communities in L.A.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Beatriz Porto, and I am one of the owners, along with my siblings, of Porto’s Cafe. We started Porto’s out of necessity. My mom, Rosa Porto, and dad, Raul Porto, started the small bakery on Sunset and Silver Lake. We kids did what we had to do to support the business, whether it was dishes or learning how to bake. My sister and I became cake decorators just by watching my mother! So becoming this big name wasn’t deliberate. I just started helping out my family because that’s what you had to do. All of us would come out of school and help every day.
How did Porto’s Bakery get started?
We lived in Cuba when we started. In 1962, our family presented papers to leave the country. It was a difficult time because both my parents were fired from their jobs. Prior they had made very good salaries, and then we went from that to making zero dollars. Our neighbor told my mother, “Hey, you got to start making those cakes that you make for your kids, for everybody else, because you need to make some money.” My mother was a talented baker — she was self-taught and so that is how we got started. But money was illegal, and you were not supposed to have a private enterprise. Every day, my mother ran the risk of being caught and going to jail for 25 years. We were lucky enough to live in a neighborhood where our neighbors would tell us when the secret police were coming. Through the backyard, my mother would quickly get everything (baking supplies) out of the house. She was doing that until we left for the United States in 1971.
We were really excited to talk to you about the infamous refugiado or the guava cheese pastry. How did that recipe come together?
There’s nothing more to Cuban than guava and cheese. It was inexpensive. So my mother thought why don’t you put it inside a pastry? It was never done before, no one was selling it at the time. So we decided to make it and the reason we call it refugiado or refugee, remember we just got here, and when we came from Cuba that’s what we were called. For us, it’s a comfort food. It is what being Cuban American is all about.
Read the entire interview HERE.