Salvador Avila, co-founder of El Ranchito, dies at 99

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

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

But the years of struggle and sacrifice when Mexicans immigrated to the United States are still on everyone’s mind.

Salvador, the father of Maria Elena, came to the United States in the 1940s as a brace – a contracted Mexican farm worker.

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

“He just looked at me, and then said to all of us, ‘I can’t believe I ever cut these,’ Maria Elena recalls.

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

“And then,” Maria Elena continued, “Dad said, “Now, I’m going to eat artichokes. I have never even tried them. ‘”

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

His insistence that his children never forget where they came from and stay united has helped Avila’s El Ranchito transform from a five-table position into a multimillion-dollar empire with 13 locations, all All are owned and operated by three generations of the family.

They had memorized many of his daily aphorisms: Keep a clean restaurant. Make sure the food is always delicious. A straw on a broom will flicker, but a bunch of them together is unbreakable.

Avila’s El Ranchito said in a press release: “He led his life with determination, humility, gratitude and sacrifice. “He realized that all his blessings came from Heaven on high.”

Born in Michoacán, Avila worked in the fields of Central California, returning to Mexico after the picking season to visit her growing family. In the late 1950s, he took them from their home in Pénjamo to southeast Los Angeles, where he arranged two eight-hour shifts at different foundries so his children could attend St. . Aloysius Gonzaga and so he could buy a two-bedroom house. His three boys and three girls share a room and he and his wife, Margarita, the other.

Salvador eventually lost his job after straining his back. He was selling eggs in his family’s station wagon when he got a chance to buy a restaurant. Neither he nor his wife have ever run their own businesses, “but my dad just wanted to create something, and this was a golden opportunity,” says Maria Elena.

Avila’s first El Ranchito opened in 1966. Huntington Park in those days was still an Okie enclave. Eaters at the time preferred crispy tacos and cheese platters to Margarita’s regional recipes, like beef tongue or cocido de res – beef soup. The family made only $13 on the first day.

But Avila opened at the perfect time. Southeast LA is about to undergo a significant demographic change. Salvador and Margarita’s children – who all work in the family business while out of school – caught the business bug from their parents and begged for their blessing to open a diner in Orange County, Make sure to follow Salvador’s most valuable advice: Own the land where your restaurant will stand.

“My mother is the one who has sazon [touch],” said Maria Elena. “My father was a visionary.”

By the 1980s, Salvador and Margarita were able to move into a hilltop estate in the tony Corona del Mar neighborhood of Spyglass Hill, with views of Catalina Island. Almost all of their children live nearby.

“I was very lucky,” he told The Times in 1990. “But we also worked really hard.”

Salvador used to visit his family’s restaurants every day, until he retired at the age of 90, to thank customers for their decades of visits.

“He would drink a cup of coffee, or maybe a glass of wine, and just talk to people,” said his daughter Margarita. “He knows their stories, and he has seen them and their children grow up. It was his soul.”

Salvador also enjoys checking in with staff – and not just with his children and grandchildren.

“He went to the dishwasher and told us, ‘Without him, you wouldn’t make it,’ Margarita said. “He knows the pain of being disrespected.”

During his break, Salvador became a fixture on 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. he will do it.”

He finally achieved his goal in 1998, running the Los Angeles Marathon at the age of 75 wearing a jersey bearing the name of his family restaurant. He competed every year until he was 81 years old.

In the last years of his life, Salvador liked to share his secret to a long life: Frijoles de la ollaPinto beans in broth with radish and cilantro.

“What he is most proud of is that he has given his children the opportunity to succeed in this country,” said Maria Elena. “He feels like he’s lived the good life.”

Salvador Avila on the death of Margarita, his 72-year-old wife and a son, Jose Luis. He is survived by daughters Maria Elena and Margarita and sons Salvador Jr., Victor and Sergio, as well as 14 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. Salvador Avila, co-founder of El Ranchito, dies at 99

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