Since 2004, Yelp has worked to connect millions of people to the best in local business. In that time we’ve met thousands of passionate small business owners, a group as hardworking and diverse as any you’ll find. In this series, we share stories of just some of the people who, through their commitment to building great local businesses, are sustaining the vibrant local communities we call home.
Cecilia, the woman behind Lolita’s Fast Food in South El Monte has her story to tell.
Cecilia grew up in Mexico City. Her mom was always busy working hard to provide for the household, so Cecilia had to step up to the plate and play parent-on-duty to her siblings. She was obligated to learn at a young age how to handle all the chores, especially preparing meals for the family. When her mother had spare time to cook, Cecilia would spend hours with her just watching and trying to mimic her skills. “I watched her how to cook — I tried to copy her recipes all the time,” she boasts.
Cecilia at a very young age knew she wanted to open a restaurant. At the age of 13, she was making and selling homemade sandwiches to her classmates to earn extra money to help out her family as much as she could. She then learned she also had an affection for this. Cecilia stated, “I wanted to cook, but I really wanted to help my mom. It’s because of these times I decided to name my restaurant after my her.” Her mother’s dream was to open a restaurant one day, as that was her passion, but she just didn’t have the funds to do it.” So Cecilia made it a personal goal to achieve that dream at some point in her life.
When Cecilia first moved to America in 1988, she started a Mexican food truck business with her family in East Los Angeles off of Gerhart and Beverly Blvd. The food truck was operating well, but they decided to close it in 1995 to fulfill other dreams. Cecilia took a break from the restaurant business and focused on just cooking for her family, but she knew deep down inside there was something missing in her life: cooking for people and putting a smile on even a stranger’s face. She eventually came back to the restaurant industry in 2008 and partnered with a banquet hall in Pomona. She managed and prepared all the cooking for this hall. She realized having a restaurant at a banquet hall was not a good fit for what she envisioned for her business.
Once she left, she launched her ultimate dream come true fast food restaurant in South El Monte inside of a Shell gas station; Lolita’s Fast Food. She of course, named the restaurant after the lady who taught her everything, her mother. She opened the restaurant independently, without any other partners, and just her son, Israel, to help her out whenever he had the opportunity do so. She wanted to pursue her dream, but couldn’t find the right place at the right price to start her restaurant. “We didn’t have a lot of money to spend and that’s why I decided to start a small one. I had become friends with the owners of this gas station and finally convinced them to rent me this spot,” said Cecilia.
Eager to open her doors, she was unsure how to properly manage her hours. She knew it was going to be a struggle having the business inside of a gas station. When she first opened her restaurant doors, she would leave her house at 4 AM and close the store at 8 PM. Being that there was no budget left for additional workers, Cecilia had to take orders, prepare/cook the food, and serve it to the customers herself. She eventually figured out her most optimal hours of business and managed to set a more reasonable hours of operation. Her restaurant is currently open from 6 AM – 5 PM.
When Cecilia has a day off and time to celebrate, she enjoys going to Coco Palm in Pomona with her son. “It’s a nice restaurant. It’s Cuban, but it has some dishes that remind me of home like the Parillada,” Cecilia mentioned.
Cecilia is happy where she’s at right now, but of course she has bigger dreams to pursue. She hopes in five years to expand her business to another brick-and-mortar. She plans to keep her shop inside the gas station, but to have a second location with seating so she can see people enjoy her food!
Want to know more? Check out the location on Yelp: Lolita’s Fast Food in South El Monte.