What About Brand?

Zee Alexan

Before the Americana at Brand opened up in Glendale, there was a lot of concern and resistance from the nearby business owners on Brand Boulevard. This doesn’t seem to be the case for a family-owned business named Porto’s Bakery in Glendale. The bakery currently serves at least 2,500 customers a day so it’s safe to say the Americana hasn’t hurt its business. Porto’s biggest attractions are its cakes, pastries, and house specialties.


Not even the current tough economic times has stopped Porto’s plan for opening up another new location this summer in Downey, and due to high demand, in Orange County next year. But the Cuban-styled bakery might not have existed today if it wasn’t for the original owner, Rosa Porto, who took a challenging time in her life and turned it into an opportunity for a successful business. Porto’s story started in Manzanillo, Cuba, when Rosa Porto, lost her job as a home economics teacher and began selling cakes from home.

But with every growing business, comes some challenges the owners need to face and adjust accordingly. One of the family owners, Betty Porto says, “When we first started the business, we had like 25 full-time workers, but now we have 200 employees. It is getting harder to keep-up with all the paperwork for the workers. Human resources is time consuming but it’s important to get it right.

Providing good customer service is our priority so we have to make sure our employees are prepared and make improvements if they need to. That’s why we have in-house customer service training, we ask employees to take management and business courses, and sometimes we bring in experts to talk to them about customer service and cooking-related topics like why some foods need to stay at certain temperature.”

A few months ago, right across from Porto’s, a shop called Panera Bread opened on Brand Boulevard. Like Porto’s Bakery, it offers a variety of delicious, fresh and affordable food. Betty is not worried though because she says, “Our food here is unique. They don’t have what we have. No one can imitate our guava and cheese, cheese roll, or potato ball. There is no place like us around here. Even the Americana, which is only a few blocks from here, hasn’t hurt our business. In fact, it might help our business because when people hear about us, they would want to walk over and try our unique food.”

The success of Panera Bread doesn’t seem to bother Betty because she says, “The business at Panera is going good, but we are doing as good as before. That’s fine. There is enough for everyone. We are not worried because our clients have known us for more than 35 years. We are not in the business just for the money, but we want to keep the family tradition going and truly care about our customers. We have been here for them and served them during their most special times like birthdays, weddings, and showers.”

Providing good customer service and keeping their prices low during difficult economic times has helped Porto’s Bakery not only stay in business but to thrive.


On the other hand, three bookstores on Brand Boulevard aren’t doing as well as they used to. But the problem is not the Americana. The bookstores are victims of the recession and online shopping. A manager at Borders, Amber Lessa says, “Americana hasn’t affected the business here at all. If anything, it’s bringing more people to downtown and they usually just cross over and come to our store.”

Lately, there have been rumors that Borders is in danger of closing down, but the manger dismissed those rumors. Lessa says, “We renewed our lease very recently so we are definitely planning to stay here and, hopefully, for many more years.”

The Americana hasn’t hurt the business of a privately owned bookstore on Brand named Bookfellows, according to its owner, Malcolm Bell. The bookstore sells fiction books only and 95 percent of them are used. Bell says, “The Americana hasn’t hurt or helped my business. The parking meters that were added in front of my store have hurt my business more than the Americana. My clients complain about them.”

Bell runs the store with his wife Christine and he doesn’t have any employees. He has been at this location for 10 years and it is open seven days a week. He also sells paperbacks, hard covers, and vintage. Although the overall sales have been down due to the recession, Bell says, “Business is slightly improving again. More people are beginning to buy.”

Sales have slowed down at another privately owned bookstore on Brand called Brand Bookshop. According to its upbeat owner, Jerome Joseph, “Our sales have been down roughly 15 percent due to the recession. All the people are ordering online now days, but that’s OK, we are still here. I am always going to be here. I tell my customers, I’m going to die here. I don’t believe in retirement. I love this job too much.”

The delightful 82-year-old owner has been working at the shop for 25 years. He always greets his customers with a big smile on his face and he makes sure they are getting what they’re looking for. “If they’re looking for fiction books, I refer them to my friend’s store right across from me. I don’t sell a lot of fiction. I don’t like fiction,” Jerome says.

Brand Bookshop carries used, out of print, and rare books. The store is well known in the community for being organized. Jerome has two full-time and six part-time employees and they are mainly college students.

One of them, Robert Satto, says, “This is my favorite job ever. I love working for him. I used to work here three days a week, but now I work only once a week.” Robert is also a talented artist. His paintings are displayed throughout the bookstore. Some of the works of art are in small frames hanging on top of the bookshelves and there is a big painting right by the exit door. Jerome speaks highly of Robert and is proud to showcase his paintings.

Since the business slowed down a little, Jerome had to cut back some of the store hours, but it is still open seven days a week to accommodate his customers. Robert says, “Bookstores aren’t doing well. Everyone is buying online to save more money.” Four of the shops on Brand say the Americana is not the reason to blame for the slower business.

Jerome points his hands towards the Americana and says, “The Americana is there. They are different than us. They have their fancy, nice, and new stores. You know, they have Barnes and Noble there, but they aren’t anything like us. They don’t sell used books, but we do here.”