Neighborhood Flavor profiles the people behind the familiar restaurants, bars and food businesses of the Eastside
East Los Angeles -- El Gallo Bakery, founded in 1949, is one of the oldest and most well known of East L.A.'s many panaderias. Today, the Cesar Chavez Avenue bakery is owned by Jesus Gabriel Huerta, the son of founder Magdalena Martinez-Huerta.
Jesus was born in East L.A. but raised in Guadalajara. At age 18, a series of events led him to return to the U.S. and take over the bakery. Over the years, Huerta opened El Gallo Grill, Moles La Tia, and La Cocina Express, two of which have temporarily closed due to the pandemic. His 27-year old son, Gabriel Huerta, currently runs the only operating restaurant, La Cocina Express. And with the help of his wife and more than half a dozen of his children, Huerta keeps his mother legacy alive.
In a Q&A, Jesus Gabriel shares his experience running the business.
What's El Gallo's story? How did it come to be?
My mother, Magdalena Martinez-Huerta, and her brother, Lauro, opened El Gallo Bakery in 1949. After she had emigrated from Mexico, and after a few years she opened a shop in the East of Los Angeles.
The food business is in the family’s blood. My grandfather owned bakeries, ice cream shops and cantinas among other business in Guadalajara in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The first store was much smaller and it was located where the Long Beach Freeway stand today. It was there where my mother developed all the recipes with the support of my uncle Lauro Martinez.
What is your favorite memory working at the bakery?
Well, I have to say when my mother came back then she helped us at the production table after 20-30 years of her retirement.
What is the best part of owning your own business?
This industry is a continuous challenge every day. That's what I love about the bakery. There's not a day that I don't have a challenge. There's always something that comes up or a new way of doing things.
What is the most challenging part?
I do worry about the future of the bakery. For a small business, it's difficult to survive nowadays, right?
The most challenging part nowadays is the daily struggle to find bakers, helpers and personnel. Good help, people who want to work hard for minimum wage or near minimum wages. This is real work, not too heavy, but heavy enough for people not to want to do it.
Are your kids involved in the bakery?
My oldest boy, he's involved but he's more involved in the restaurant. One of my girls gets involved doing some pastries and some desserts and stuff, especially lately, since she just turned 18 this summer. But my little eight year-old girl, she is unbelievably involved. I kid you not, some of the leads in the bakery say, "I prefer to work with her, then one of those adults that you choose for the shift. I'd rather work with her." She's unbelievable and she happened to have the same name as my mother.
And your wife?
She controls pretty much all the office. I'm not an office person, as you can probably tell. You probably email me and I won't get back to in a couple days. I like to be downstairs [in the bakery]. I just told my wife, I don't know for how many years I've been coming to the office and I hate the office side. My life is down here resolving and talking to people and going from one side to another. And that's what I like doing.
How have you been adapting to COVID?
We've been blessed. First, we never closed. We never had to even shrink hours. I was tempted to shrink hours because originally when the pandemic started, the afternoons or the evenings were deserted outside. Not a lot of people were in the streets. But we always get some traffic. And thanks to God we added more items, trying to ease some pain to the people and make life easier. We started to add like pre-packed fresh food like by the pound. So people will just come grab and and take it home, and resolve, their meal issue and that has worked great. That has helped us increase traffic, quite a bit.
What is your favorite item on the menu of any of your restaurants? Can you describe it?
I can't chose one. I hear this with customers as well. You stick around to two, maybe three or four times and you circle back, depending on the season of the time of the year. There's some, like scones that they're my favorite right now and in a couple of weeks I might start craving something more like tasty bread. It also depends on the weather and what you're gonna drink.
Also as time goes by our tastebuds changes too.
I can tell you what are our best seller for decades.
Can you share any tip or recipe for the readers?
Gosh, I like [the guayabas scones] with hot coffee or with milk, but mostly without coffee. Those are really good.