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The Third Generation of Avila’s Continue the Family Legacy

Written By: Jordan Ligons Avila’s El Ranchito

Avila’s El Ranchito celebrates their 50 year anniversary this year. Fifty years of generations learning authentic Mexican recipes from Mama Avila, the spearhead of the kitchen and their most crucial taste tester.

Now, it’s the third generation’s turn. Marcus Avila and his sister Elyse Avila Smith have restaurants of their own. Marcus owning two, one located in an old church building in Orange and another in Laguna Niguel while Elyse opened hers in Seal Beach, soon to celebrate its first anniversary mid-August. Their brother Michael, who owns the Laguna Beach location, and a few of their cousins own and help operate restaurants through the county as well, continuing the third generation’s involvement just like their predecessors. These restaurants stem from great family history and come with great pride, and great appreciation to carry on the Avila’s name in restaurateur form.

“It chose me, I didn’t choose the restaurant, ” Elyse says apologetically for the cliche. “It’s in our blood.”

Their grandfather Salvador Avila came here from Mexico for his slice of the American dream.
After spending just eight years in the United States with his wife, Margarita Avila and their children, the couple seized an opportunity that changed their family forever. As the story goes, one night a knock came at the door. It was a distant family member who owned a local restaurant and he offered Salvador the opportunity to purchase it. Salvador turned to Margarita and asked her if she would be willing to share her recipes and help him create a new life for their family. In 1966, this became the first Avila’s to open in Huntington Park—equipped with five tables, a $2, 000 investment, and a fully family-run operation.

Elyse’s fascination of the whole story was that it was her grandmother’s name on the bill of sales to the restaurant. For a woman in that time to have their name on that type of document was big news, she says. “I have so much respect for her, ” Elyse says about her 90-year-old grandmother. “The more and more I work in this business the more I have respect for her.”

50 years, 13 locations, and three generations later, the formula still holds true and Avila’s has become an Orange County must-try. Marcus says that the food is what keeps bringing people back. Everything in the kitchen is made from scratch. Even their produce is grown and locally sourced only for their restaurants. Their delivery man has been with the family for 30 plus years dropping their produce off at each location. Marcus calls this “quality control.”

The menu items are rooted in their grandmother’s original recipes. Elyse tells how she would get after school one-on-one cooking lessons when she would go to their grandparents’ house, they all did. “That is when I realized how much love goes into this food, ” she says.

There’s love that goes into the food and even more love that goes into running an establishment like this. Marcus beams at the fact that his job doesn’t feel like a job at all. “Friday nights are fun, ” he responds to the hustle and bustle of busy, crowded evenings. The crazy hours and working weekends are mere parts of the fun. Another part is being in this with your family; knowing that you are not alone because you have built-in mentors to guide you in this business. Marcus says that he’s jumped in the car to go help his sister wait tables, they call each other at 11:30 p.m. after their shifts to rave about their days and utilize everyone in their family’s strengths: their mom helps them decorate, their dad is known for giving wise advice and relieving them when he knows they haven’t had enough sleep, and their spouses being supportive of their hectic lifestyles. “We’ve all been there, ” Marcus says. “The bartender, the dishwasher, the waiter. My dad always said, ‘Start from the bottom and go to the top.’ (…) We’re all in this together.”

The next generation can’t hardly wait. Marcus’ twin four-year-old boys once waited tables for a half an hour, closely following instructions and carrying menus that were half their size. Elyse teaches a young girl and group of her friends from the neighborhood how to make tortillas—the family-type, community driven atmosphere is contagious.

With a business running strong after this many years, with younger generations eager to join in on the fun, and employees sticking around almost since day one, it is a true testament to how the Avila family does business. Elyse and Marcus believe that it is rare these days to find a family-focused restaurant, driven by regulars with their orders waiting for them when they arrive; it makes them different. And when you do go, regardless of the time of day, you have to try Mama Avila’s Soup. It’s a local (and family) favorite, and once you’ve tried it, consider yourself apart of the family.

Fiestas to Celebrate 50!

To not only celebrate Avila’s anniversary, but to celebrate their customers in a “gigantic thank you card” type of way, the restaurant has been planning fiestas at all 13 of their locations. Expect great food (go for the crispy tacos), music (Carlos Santana’s nephew performed at one!), drink specials (have you tried their margaritas?), giveaways, party favors, and more!

Here’s a list of the upcoming fiestas!  
August 11: Newport Beach
August 18: Seal Beach
August 25: Orange
September 1: San Clemente
Avila’s El Ranchito Turns 50!