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Tuesday, Jan 31, 2023
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Founder of El Torito Dies

Larry J. Cano, founder of the El Torito Mexican restaurant chain which started in the San Fernando Valley, died Dec. 10 from cancer. He was 90. Cano opened his first El Torito in 1954, transforming a tiki-style bar he had taken over in Encino called Bali Hai into a popular sit-down Mexican restaurant. Within four years, Cano opened a second location in Toluca Lake and a third in Hollywood. By the time Cano sold the chain in 1976, it had grown to 20 locations with sales nearing $20 million. He is credited with helping pioneer the Mexican American dinner house concept and popularizing the margarita cocktail. Cano was born in East Los Angeles and graduated from USC with a business degree. He spent several years in the Air Force Reserve, serving two tours in Europe and time in Korea as well. W. R. Grace and Co., a Columbia, Md. chemical company that was looking to diversify, acquired the chain in 1976. Cano stayed on for 10 years as president, leading its growth into a nationwide chain. Cypress-based Real Mexican Restaurants, the operator of the Acapulco and Chevy’s chains, has 190 restaurants including El Torito, which the company has owned since 2000. In 2011, Real Mex filed for Chapter 11 and reorganized amid the recession and competition from new concepts such as Chipotle. El Torito, which is still owned by Real Mexican, has 58 restaurants located primarily in California, as of Oct. 2013. Cano died at his home in Corona del Mar. Among his survivors are his wife, Suzann, and three daughters.

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