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Meet Dora Herrera of YUCA’S HUT

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dora Herrera.

Dora, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
When people land at LAX, and the first thing they do is head for YUCA’S, you know your dream has grown beyond whatever you imagined 4 decades ago over late-night dinners at the kitchen table. That dream started with two immigrants who understood that the ‘roads paved with gold’ in L.A. were a parable for opportunities available to those who threw doubts by the wayside and dared to make their dreams a reality. In 1976 that opportunity came in the form of an 8×10′ converted shoeshine stand.

Mama Yuca’s, as Mom is now known, launched her dream at this small stand on April 1, 1976. Mom and Dad didn’t speak English or know marketing strategies, or business plans and projections. What they did know was good home cooking, how to treat customers like family, and a ‘failure is not an option’ attitude.

Our first customers were drivers hailed over from the sidewalk on Hillhurst Avenue. My brother would greet them with, “We just opened, and we’re offering Double Your Money Back on tacos today.” Intrigued, people would pull in and order (we never had to give anyone their money back). This was Guerrilla Marketing before the term was coined… the great thing about this approach is that people left satisfied, told everyone they met about the crazy guy waving them down and helped spread the word about YUCA’S!

Did I mention my parents didn’t speak English? Yet they managed to create devoted customers who proved invaluable to their success. One of them was the Food Critic for the L.A. Times, who not only wrote an article about YUCA’S but also showed up on the day the article was published to help answer the phones FOR OVER EIGHT HOURS!

That center spread in the Food Section was a turning point for YUCA’S. We were soon featured in other local papers, radio, and TV, then USA Today, the New York Times, and GQ. The dream was exploding, and in 2005 expanded beyond our wildest expectations when Patric Kuh, Los Angeles Magazine food writer, nominated YUCA’S for a James Beard Award in America’s Classics category. This award recognizes restaurants that are cherished for their quality food, local character, and timeless appeal. We flew to N.Y. City where mom accepted her award in full Yucatán regalia, discovering that many of her ‘regular’ customers were famous L.A. chefs!

Over the years we have been fortunate to receive many accolades for our food and community activities. Zagat’s 2018 list of ‘Best Mexican Restaurants in L.A.’ includes YUCA’S. The fact that these accolades arrive unsolicited fills our heart with joy, and makes us look forward to forty more years!

Has it been a smooth road?
What you don’t know can hurt you: bureaucratic snafus that could’ve been avoided, systems that could’ve been put in place earlier, how to improve on a good thing, some people don’t deserve your trust… the easy successes are priceless, but so are the failed attempts, the wrong turns, and the bouts of self-doubt after a particularly bad experience.

The biggest struggles often bring valuable lessons to launch you to the next level; you only have to be willing to reach high, fail big, and forge forward on your fabulous adventure!

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the YUCA’S HUT story. Tell us more about the business.
To tell you about YUCA’S, all we have to do is quote our customers:
“Yuca’s Hut is just that, with hardly enough room for the few people preparing the consistently excellent food. The menu is not large, and the food is relatively simple, but the quality and flavor is first class.”

“Last of the best stands. I’ve been enjoying Yuca’s for over 30 years. Great food, great people, great time.”

“Traditional, old school LA Mex from wonderful, old-school family members. The servings aren’t large, but the care, seasoning and love for the food are evident.”

It could be because Mama Yuca’s chose years ago to only buy quality ingredients, to have her achiote spices made by an old woman in her hometown, and to cook things in the traditional way. Or, it could be the feeling of coming home to a place where you are loved and accepted. Where you will get advice coupled with laughter, or tough love, whichever the situation calls for.

Where they may not know your name (chances are Mama has even given you a new one), but your ‘usual’ is ready by the time you pay because the cooks saw you get out of the car and they already know how you like it although it’s only your third time coming…

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
Narrowing margins, rising labor costs, and adoption of new technology will impact the share of the customer pie for all of us. Survival will depend on adaptability to demand menu options that fit customer dietary choices, quality coupled with value, and employee retention.

Technology will bring more automation impacting how we order, venue selection, delivery, and even food creation. 3D printed tacos, anyone?

Contact Info:


Image Credit:
Gary Leonard

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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