Porto opens up on success

Glendale bakery maven Betty Porto whipped up a mixture of homespun stories and practical business advice in a talk Wednesday before more than 60 entrepreneurs.

Porto described her family’s flight from Cuba in 1971, the origins of the Porto’s Bakery empire, and even the egg fights she had with her brother and sister when they were supposed to be helping their mother. The business that first operated out of the family home in Cuba now employs 500 people at bakeries in Glendale, Burbank and Downey.

“Things change,” Porto said. “What doesn’t change is you have to keep educating yourself to keep going and get the next level.”

Porto was the headliner in at a noon event sponsored by SCORE L.A., a free Glendale-based business consulting service staffed by retired executives and supported by chambers of commerce around the region.

While Porto’s immigration tale resonated with attendees, they also wanted to know how she deals with excess inventory, business succession and protecting trade secrets.

Porto emphasized that businesspeople need to immerse themselves in their trade in order to outhustle competitors, earn the respect of employees and avoid costly pitfalls. Don’t raise prices just because you think the market will bear it, she said.

“Work harder, keep your prices down. Then the business will come to you,” she said.

Porto said her mother, Rosa, started a bakery at Sunset and Silver Lake boulevards a few years after the family immigrated from Cuba in 1971. Her parents wanted to move the business to a safer community, she said, and Porto’s came to Glendale in 1976.

Redevelopment was changing the face of Brand Boulevard, and Porto’s lost its original home to what is now an office tower.

But, she said, “As the city grew, so did we.”

Debbie Rhodes — who came from Los Angeles to hear Porto because her daughter is planning to open a bakery and she wants to launch a flower shop — said she gained several practical insights.

Rhodes said Porto is smart to check her bakery’s reviews on user-driven consumer website yelp.com and to build a base among personal and business acquaintances, as well as to consider the strengths of applicants and “hire for the job.”

SCORE L.A. President John Doyle said last year the agency assisted about 12,000 people with free information on everything from applying for loans to crafting a solid business plan.

Porto said the drive to succeed is the key ingredient.

Speaking of her mother’s start — bartering cakes for money, beans or live chickens when her husband had been forced to a Cuban labor camp — “once she worked for herself, she never wanted to work for anybody else,” Porto said.

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