It was 5:00 a.m. on the morning of May 16,1961 when Ramon Barragan left his cooking job at the Nayarit Restaurant. One Hour later he put on an apron in a different kitchen.
The difference, it was a restaurant he could finally call his own literally. And it proudly bears the family name. “I didn’t even go to my house,” Ramon said. The Nayarit closed at 5:00 A.M. I made a stop at Pioneer Market to buy some groceries and at 6:00 A.M, I opened my business.”
His tiny Echo Park restaurant barely had 25 seats, and the father of four at the time, knew it would be a financial gamble, pouring his savings in to the business and using his home as collateral. He bought the business for $2,000.00 and Paid $85.00 for the rent that month.
Forty years later, Ramon, now 70, never imagined that he would leave a legacy and that his recipes would be a favorite among Mexico-food lovers.
The small cafe - originally with only a counter and four booths, is now considered a staple in Los Angeles, having survived earthquakes, riots, and recessions.
Barragan’s in Glendale was opened in 1981. and a location in Burbank opened in 1985.
“People liked it and recommended it to other people. There was no advertising,” Ramon said “I never expected big. I was just trying to support my family.” Today Barragan’s is owned and opperated by Ramon’s youngest son, Armando. Ramon retired last year.
The small mom-and -pop restaurant in Echo Park is now much larger after several renovations and the family acquired six storefronts over the years. with 350 seats, it now has a full bar, banquet facilities, a patio and a parking lot across the street.
Armando, who can usually be found at the Echo Park restaurant, isn’t doing it alone. Carmen Hernandez, Armando’s sister, overseas the Glendale location and Rose Barragan, Armandos wife runs the Burbank restaurant.
Now, Armando is left with ther challenge of following in his fathers footsteps
He takes a lot of pride in the business and insists that the family presence is what separates the eatery from other restaurants.
“The Barragan family has never been an absentee owner. There’s always been a Barragan to greet you. Customer loyalty is very important to us.” Armando said. “When you see customer’s families for three generations, they’re almost like family.
“Even to this day, we will see customers from one day as grandparents and as great grandparents, and they remember me running around when I was 6 years old.”
Armando also credits the restaurant’s success to four cooks, personally trained by Ramon, who have each been with Barragan’s at least 30 years. They’ve been instrumental in training other cooks.
In addition, many of the same servers have been greeting customers for decades, making the dining experiance very personal.
Most of the original menu items are still being served, including “Combiation #1” (Beef Taco and Cheese Enchilada). That dish was originally priced at 85 cents, and today goes for $8.25 with inflation. A cup of coffee used to sell for a dime.
Even in his retirement, Ramon still can be found behind the scenes at the Burbank restaurant, as Armando would say, doing “quality control”
“I feel happy to be here 40 years later. It’s not a job. It just makes me happy.” Ramon said.
Carmen Hernandez echoes her father’s dedications. “His business always came first. It was his first love,” said Carmen, who started as a hostess at age 12.
Ramon Barragan was born in Nayarit, Mexico on September 18, 1930. At the age of 16, he made the journey to the United States to live the American dream, leaving behind his mother and father.
He had no idea where he would live. Ramon found a man willing to rent out a garage and got work at the Nayarit. He worked there off and on for 12 years, learning to cook and the ropes of the business.
I told my boss at the Nayarit I was going to leave the restaurant to open my own business. She was mad at me. “I think she was worried about competition,” said Ramon, admitting that many customers did follow him to Barragan’s.
It was at Nayarit that he met his first wife, Grace Navarro. She was the daughter of one of his colleagues. The two had six children together
Frank, Tony, Armando, Carmen, Grace and Rita.
When Ramon set up shop, he didn’t have enough money to hire help. So he would run the kitchen himself and Grace would work the dining room.
Their oldest son at the time, Frank, barely 7, would help his father out, running to the grocery store and doing whatever his father needed.
Through the years, as the Barragan children grew up, everyone has worked in the restaurant in some capacity. Year’s later, even Ramon’s grandchildren help continue his legacy by waiting and bussing tables and seating customers.
It’s exciting to know its still going after so long. Thing are constantly changing, but the family roots are still there. “You can sit in a booth and remember all kind of things,” daughter Carmen said. “It’s exciting to see the growth and the change.
“It’s never been a question in my mind that we’d make it this far.
How can you go wrong when you have such a good product and when it’s people’s home away from home?’