Delightful Delia’s: A heart as full as her burritos

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Author: Griff Wynne

The sun peeks through your cheap blinds and you pull apart your crusty eyelids, feeling around your bed for your phone. You find it, forgetting it’s on full brightness and blinding yourself. But you’re optimistic: you’re about to indulge yourself with freshly squeezed orange juice and a bursting breakfast burrito. Nothing can bring you down.

From a sleepy weekend breakfast to a wholesome early dinner, Delia’s Restaurant — the crown jewel of York Boulevard — satisfies Eagle Rock residents and Occidental students alike. Its fresh ingredients and phenomenal customer service have earned the restaurant quite a following around the 90041.

The history: Even richer than the flan

The family-owned Mexican diner opened its doors in 2002 at the crossing of York Boulevard and North Avenue 45. The neighbors warned the new owners that the location was not fruitful for business, as every prior restaurant in the space had closed shop within a year. But 14 years later, owners Delia and Adolfo Flores laugh at this concern.

“If your food is good, you have business wherever you go,” Delia said as we talked over sweet horchata and succulent asada tortas.

The couple met in their small town in Mexico when Delia was 13 years old. At 17 they were married, and in 1985 they moved to the United States.

The Eagle Rock diner wasn’t Delia’s first business venture. The daughter of a businessman, Delia embarked on her own entrepreneurial endeavor at 9 years old, skyrocketing to success in her neighborhood by selling fruits and candies. Inspired by her family’s recipes and positive feedback from customers, Delia started cooking for locals in her hometown.

“Sometimes I’d cook things for friends just in small portions, and everyone said, ‘I really like it,'” Delia said. “In my mind, I always thought, ‘When I grow up, I want to open a restaurant.’

In 2000, the Floreses and their three children did open a restaurant: Fred’s Burgers, on Figueroa Street and Meridian Avenue. The family bought the pre-existing restaurant and kept the name and general menu, which consisted of American diner classics. Though making food and serving customers proved to be just as rewarding and exciting as Delia had hoped, gun violence in the surrounding neighborhood motivated the Floreses look for an alternate location for their restaurant.

After two years, the Floreses found a vacant location on York Boulevard and opened Delia’s Restaurant. For a short time the family ran both Fred’s Burgers and Delia’s Restaurant, though Delia and Adolfo ultimately left Fred’s to focus on establishing Delia’s.

More surprising than Delia’s ability to wrap heaven in a tortilla is that “authentic Mexican” was not the only cuisine brainstormed for the yellow hideaway.

“I like to cook more Italian than Mexican,” Adolfo said. I used to work in an Italian restaurant for 15 years, I like it a lot. I wanted to have an Italian restaurant, but she said, no, no, no Italian. Mexican! It’s easier, we live in a Mexican neighborhood. Whatever she says, she’s the boss.”

Family: The best dish at Delia’s

After enjoying 31 years of marriage, moving to a new country and starting a successful business, the power couple has perfected the challenge of working as a unit. Between giving one another warm smiles, expertly navigating the small space behind the counter and erupting in laughter in the kitchen, any customer can see the tenderness and love that bonds the Floreses.

Though running a business is time consuming, Delia made a commitment to never lose sight of her priority: family.

“When I started my business, I always thought, ‘Okay, I want my business, but I want to help my family grow,’” Delia said. “My kids have always helped me. I’m happy; I have a nice family, and I have a business.”

All three Flores children have worked alongside their parents, providing food and community to their customers. From the first days of Fred’s Burgers, the Flores kids helped take orders and serve food. The younger Floreses still staff the diner, while the oldest now writes for Buzzfeed after working for the Los Angeles Times.

The Floreses are happy to be a part of the greater Occidental family as well. As Delia’s is just a block away from campus offering large portions of high-quality food for reasonable prices, there’s little to keep the Tigers away.

Without fail, students swarm York Boulevard daily, ready to eat and say hello to Delia.They come disheveled, borderline still asleep and wearing clothes from last night; they come perky, showered and ready for a second cup of coffee. They come at all times of the day. Whatever their state, come the weekend, Occidental students make the almost holy pilgrimage to Delia’s — and they come hungry.

“You know, it’s nice,” Delia said. “Every Saturday morning, they come in. Sometimes I know their names, but I always know their faces. When the students go home, and they’ve been here for four years, I’m crying. Students come and they bring their moms and dads and their families, and I feel so happy.”

Apart from being graced by the light of Delia, a life-affirming breakfast burrito that deserves it own Hollywood star is one of the main driving forces behind students’ patronage. Laughing about the vast popularity of the dish, the Floreses noted that they sell more breakfast burritos on the weekends than anything else on the menu. “To-go” burrito orders make up half of the total rush. Yet a great boon awaits those brave eaters who continue on their cheesy potato indulgence “for-here” — Delia has been known to give out Alka-Seltzer to those in need.

“Even if it’s four o’clock in the afternoon, they want breakfast burritos,” said Delia. “It’s funny because we have a lot of things, but I think it’s the quality in the price. It’s five dollars, and it’s enough; it’s a meal.”

And a meal it is. At Occidental, one is more likely to find someone who openly supports Trump than someone who doesn’t enjoy Delia’s. Even among the larger Eagle Rock community, the food and the service, along with the sunny outdoor seating and refreshing cold drinks, are magnetic. On any given day, a customer can find themselves sitting next to old ladies playing cards, parents helping their kids with their food and packs of students wishing they could use their student account. Located just far enough away from the hipster-dominated sections of York Boulevard, Delia’s is an oasis that nut milks, soy meats and cold brew haven’t yet taken over.

Success in a changing community: food and service that speaks for itself

“Some people say, ‘You work seven days a week, is it hard?’” Delia said. “And I say, ‘No, I like it. I like to make food for people. When everybody has a happy face, my food is good.’”

Delia’s recipes are all her own, and everything on the menu is completely made in-house. Though Delia’s mother and sister inspired some of the dishes, over time she has modified every meal to perfection.

“People like my food and the service. Everybody says [when they’re here], they feel like home,” Delia said. “My food is homemade. When you taste it, you know it’s like grandma’s kitchen.”

After feeding the community for 14 years, Delia’s has established a reputation for itself. In the first months after opening Delia’s, the family took out an ad in the local newspaper to promote the new restaurant. But after business grew fruitful and substantial on its own, they no longer needed the publicity and have purchased no advertisements since.

“We never do anything; it’s only people,” Delia said. “They try my food and they tell others.”

In the spirit of family and community, Delia’s relies solely on word of mouth to spread business. On the internet, Delia’s Restaurant boasts some glowing Yelp reviews and a stellar 4.5 rating on Google Maps. She’s never seen the need for a Facebook page, Twitter feed, Instagram or private website, so she’s never made them — yet the business keeps coming.

Recently, however, Delia paired with The Occidental Consulting Club, which helps local businesses in the Eagle Rock and Highland Park area adapt to Northeast Los Angeles’ shifting economy based on the owner’s interests and visions.

Delia’s is a good candidate. Present before clear Warby Parker glasses and babies with undercuts ruled York Boulevard, the Floreses have seen their community dramatically change over the years. When discussing the history of the restaurant, conversation about the current changes to the community was inevitable.

“It’s getting white, a lot whiter,” Adolfo said, stepping out from behind the grill to speak alongside Delia.

Dialogue about gentrification on Occidental’s campus is primarily negative, centering almost exclusively on the displacement of local people and fetishization of lower income communities. And though many of these trends do have an adverse affect on residents, the issue is not black and white. The family spoke to the complexities of owning a local business in a gentrified community.

“Everything is going up, rent is going up,” said Delia. “But still I am happy. The neighborhood is safer, there’s more business. I saw the area change. And some people don’t like it, they think it’s not good, but we have a lot more customers, and nice people. The change has been good for me, for my family.”

When Delia and Adolfo found the York Boulevard location, the building’s owner was set to sell the space, as the previous restaurants in the location struggled to attract customers and pay rent. But when Delia brought her own spin on the homey hideaway, the owners quickly took the building off the market. There is little contact now between the Floreses and the building owner, as the family runs a successful restaurant, fixes all issues and maintains the space on their own.

Though business is now steady, the Floreses have met challenges along the way. The 2008 recession proved difficult for the Flores family, forcing them to work up to 15-hour days to keep the restaurant afloat. Seeing many of her friends’ businesses close shop, Delia was inspired to push through the difficult time. She finds that her passion for the food industry is what keeps her business going strong. From the endless cleaning and maintenance to the cooking and customer service that comes with owning a restaurant, there is little room for a bad attitude along the road to success.

With over a decade of running a successful business under their belt, the seasoned entrepreneurs have many tips to pass along to Occidental students.

For example, as a cash-only establishment, Delia’s speeds up the checkout process to pacify the morning rush. After working her register so long, Delia notes she has developed a rhythm in getting change for her customers quickly, rather than relying on a credit card machine that can make those precious “I haven’t had my coffee yet” minutes feel like hours and days.

Delia is excited to work with members of the Occidental Consulting Club, such as Aaron Noffke (junior), who is currently working for the homey eatery. Plans for designing a handy “to-go” menu and T-shirts for all the true Delia’s groupies are already in the works.

“I think Delia runs the restaurant with tremendous care,” Noffke said. “There’s definitely a sense of brand loyalty to the restaurant amongst a lot of folks, in no small part because of their excellent customer service.”

Delia’s work with The Occidental Consulting Club speaks to her intimate connection to the Occidental community. Indeed, the diner is a fundamental part of the Occidental experience. And, despite her interest in working with The Occidental Consulting Club to broaden local outreach, Delia knows her business is a booming success.

“The quality of the food will speak for itself,” Noffke said.

The future of Delia’s: Tradition comes first

Through it all, Delia Flores — the queen of her kingdom — continues to focus on serving her customers and make delicious meals.

“My son always said, ‘Mom, why are you looking at people eating?’ ” Delia said. “I say, ‘If everybody looks happy, it means my food is good.’”

And upon entering the space decorated with vibrant mural of the Virgin de Guadalupe, hanging succulents in colorful pots (both made by customers) and round tables with umbrellas, it’s difficult to spot an unhappy patron.

“I have good customers. Very good customers, that’s why I told you I don’t want to get employees, I don’t want to change,” Delia said.

And we hope it never does.

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