Salvador Avila, bracero turned Mexican restaurant baron, dies at 99

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One day during the 1970s, Maria Elena Avila served her family some artichokes.

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She, her siblings and parents had found success with their family restaurant, Avila’s El Ranchito in Huntington Park, and were beginning to expand into Long Beach and Orange County.

But years of struggle and sacrifice were still on everyone’s mind as Mexican immigrants to the United States.


Maria Elena’s father Salvador arrived in the United States in the 1940s laborer – A contracted Mexican farmer.

The hard work and loneliness of those days made him hesitant to talk about them with his children. But when he saw what Maria Elena was about to serve, he had to speak up.

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Maria Elena recalled, “She just looked at me, and then said to all of us, ‘I can’t believe I used to bite these.


The patriarch began to describe how he had to carefully cut the vegetable from the stem with a knife, being careful not to prick himself with its thorns, and do it hundreds of times a day in the hot sun near Watsonville.

“And then,” continued Maria Elena, “Daddy said, ‘Now, I’m going to eat artichokes. I’ve never tried them.'”

Salvador Avila died of natural causes in Newport Beach on July 28. He was 99 years old.

His insistence that his children never forget where they came from and always be united, helped transform Avila’s El Ranchito from a five-table spot into a multimillion-dollar empire with 13 places, All were owned and operated by three generations of the family.

He remembered several of his daily aphorisms: Keep a clean restaurant. Make sure the food is always delicious. A straw will break on a broomstick, but a bunch of them together is unbreakable.

“He lived his life with determination, humility, gratitude and self-sacrifice,” Avila’s El Ranchito said in a news release. “He recognized that all his blessings came from heaven above.”

Born in Michoacan, Avila worked farms in Central California, returning to Mexico after picking season to meet his growing family. In the late 1950s, he moved them from his home in Penjamo to southeast Los Angeles, where he worked two eight-hour shifts at different foundries so that his children could attend St. Aloysius Gonzaga School and So he can buy a two bedroom house. His three boys and three girls shared one room and he and his wife, Margarita, another.

Salvador eventually lost his job after straining his back. He was selling eggs outside the family station wagon when the opportunity came to buy a restaurant. Neither he nor his wife had ever run their own business, said Maria Elena, “but my dad wanted to build something, and it was a golden opportunity.”

The first Avila’s El Ranchito opened in 1966. In those days Huntington Park was still an Oki enclave. At the time, diners preferred margaritas over regional dishes, such as beef tongue or crunchy tacos and cheesy combo plates. beef stew – beef soup. The family earned only $13 on the first day.

But Avila opened at the right time. Southeast LA was about to undergo a dramatic demographic change. The children of Salvador and Margarita – who worked in the family business when not attending school – caught the entrepreneurial bug from their parents and sought their blessings to open an eatery in Orange County, making sure to follow Salvador’s most valuable advice : The owner of the land where your restaurant will stand.

“I had one with my mother Spices [touch]Said Maria Elena. “My father was visionary.”

By the 1980s, Salvador and Margarita were able to visit the top of a hill in the tony Corona del Mar neighborhood of Spyglass Hill, overlooking Catalina Island. Almost all of his children lived nearby.

“I’ve been very lucky,” he told The Times in 1990. “But we also worked very hard.”

Salvador made it a point to visit his family’s restaurant every day, until he retired at the age of 90, to thank customers for his decades of visiting.

“He’ll get a cup of coffee, or maybe a glass of wine, and just talk to people,” said his daughter, Margarita. “He knew their story, and he had seen them and their children grow up. It was his soul.”

Salvador also loved checking in with the staff—not just his kids and grandchildren.

“He’d go to the dishwasher and tell us, ‘Without that, you’re not going to be successful,'” Margarita said. “He knew the pain of not being respected.”

During its off hours, Salvador became a fixture in the Newport Beach social scene in a different way: running. The lifelong smoker decided to quit cold turkey at age 50 and vowed to run a marathon.

“My friends would say to me, ‘Hey, I saw your dad running around Fashion Island this morning! Maria Elena said. “But he was daddy – once he had something on his mind, he was going to do it.”

He eventually achieved his goal in 1998 while running the Los Angeles Marathon at the age of 75, wearing a tank top with the name of his family’s restaurant. He competed every year until the age of 81.

In his later years, Salvador loved to share his secret to a long life: pot beansPinto beans in broth with radishes and cilantro.

Maria Elena said, “He was most proud that he gave his children and grandchildren the opportunity to succeed in this country.” “He felt like he had lived a good life.”

Salvador Avila was preceded in death by his Margarita, his wife of 72 years and a son, José Luis. In his family there are daughters Maria Elena and Margarita and sons Salvador Jr., Victor and Sergio, as well as 14 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.


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