In the 1930’s, as the United States struggled through its Great Depression, thousands of Mexican-Americans living north of the border departed for Mexico to await the return of prosperity. Among them was an Arizona family with a six-year-old daughter, and that little girl — named Romana — would not return to the United States for more than a decade. Our history thus begins where any story of true Mexican flavor should.
Romana grew to age 18 before her family finally resettled in Los Angeles, CA. By that time she’d already hatched dreams of running a business — making food of the highest quality, true to the rich culinary traditions of the Chihuahua and Sonora regions of Mexico where she’d spent her formative years. With the help of a local businessman, Romana became partner in a company producing corn and flour tortillas from a modest storefront in Los Angeles. She soon bought out her partner and set forth alone. Romana’s dream was coming true.
That local businessman, the man who helped Romana get started, was named Alejandro, a naturalized citizen from Sinaloa, Mexico. It wasn’t long before the two fell in love and married, eventually raising children together — but as the small family grew, so did Romana’s business.
Rising at two in the morning, Romana would haul her infant sons to her one-woman factory on Temple and Beaudry, laying the toddlers to sleep on spare sacks of corn and flour. Then she would toil through the morning hours making fresh masa dough, feeding it by hand into a machine before running across the room to count and package the finished tortillas. Expansion came soon and swiftly. When restaurants began to request ready-made tamales, Romana retrieved a recipe from an aunt in Mexico. When Alejandro suggested adding prepackaged burritos to the offering, they were a hit, quickly displacing their leading competitors. Romana worked happily to keep pace with the booming appetite for her foods, and growth came naturally — not because she planned for it, but because customers kept demanding more. Romana’s quality simply couldn’t be matched, they explained.
It was in 1954 that the first Ramona’s plant and delicatessen opened in what’s now South Central Los Angeles. Accounts vary as to how the name came about — depending on whom you ask, Ramona’s was born of either a spelling error or a local salesman. Family lore has it that a sign maker commissioned by Romana mistook her name for the more common Ramona, and the spelling stuck. Others swear a salesman urged the company to capitalize on the popular California folk story starring two lovers named Ramona and Alejandro. Whatever its origin, Ramona’s was in business. And business was good.
At that time, the neighborhood in which Ramona’s opened was a mostly white suburb where residents weren’t schooled in the true flavors of Mexican cuisine. But rather than curb her cooking to suit the Anglo palate, Romana took another approach: she decided to educate her customers on the real taste of Mexico, just as she’d learned it working alongside her mother and aunts in Sonora. This meant using real chili peppers, not chili powder; fresh, homemade masa; and none of the overwhelming ketchup and spice flavors that mark most Americanized takes on Mexican fare. Romana served only authentic dishes in the company deli, along with their prepackaged versions and the ingredients needed to recreate them at home. Her Californian customers literally ate it up.
Ramona’s was so successful that a new main location was commissioned in Gardena, CA in 1962 — but the company’s amazing growth saw it nearly double in size during construction, outgrowing the new building before the structure was even complete. Today, Ramona’s remains headquartered in Gardena — but its products and their reputation have spread much further, across the United States and around the world. Meanwhile, its recipes survive in their original and uncompromised form, delivering a rare taste of true Mexican cuisine — just as Romana intended. Fresh meats and vegetables, authentic flavors, and a commitment to food of the highest quality, since day one.