HIGHLAND PARK — The owner of La Monarca, a small chain of upscale Mexican bakeries and cafes, plans to expand into Highland Park this year with a store on Figueroa Street.
Ricardo Cervantes, who recently opened a La Monarca in Boyle Heights, said he’s confident about the new store’s prospects in a gentrifying neighborhood with no shortage of cafes or panaderias. In fact, La Monarca has been able to attract customers in heavily Latino immigrant neighborhoods, such as East Los Angeles Huntington Park, as well as predominantly white Santa Monica and South Pasadena, where customers can purchase traditional pan dulce with their lattes or a quiche made with vegetarian chorizo in a bright and contemporary setting. “Everybody likes quality,” said Cervantes.
The Highland Park La Monarca is expected to open this summer in a now vacant storefront at the corner of Figueroa and Avenue 59, Cervantes said.
Cervantes, 39, a native of Monterey, Mexico founded the chain after earning his Stanford MBA and looking for ways to capitalize on the Latino market. After the pan dulce he purchased in Los Angeles fell short of what he remembers enjoying in his native Mexico, Cervantes taught himself how to make pan dulce and other Mexican cookies and sweets before opening the first La Monarca in Huntington Park with Alfredo Livas.
Some said the first store’s interior and ambiance was “too fancy” and might turn off customers, he said. Cervantes found such remarks offensive and also took issue with those who viewed the expansion of a Latino firm as a symbol of selling out. Cervantes said Latinos and other customers have appreciated the stylish interiors as well as the classic conchas, cuernitos and other Mexican baked goods.
“Nobody likes something that’s run down,” Cervantes said. “We are deserving of the best – just like everybody else.”
While organic coffees and quiches may not be found in an old-school panaderia, La Monarca customers, whether they are in Santa Monica or Boyle Heights, still use metal tongs and platters to select their bread as they would in any traditional Mexican bakery.
“It’s more democratic” than having an employee pick out your bread, he said. “It’s more democratic.”