The following article was originally written in November 2021, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first thing customers hear when they enter Alexander’s: World Famous Tortas is the tinkling of the old-fashioned shopkeeper’s bell.
The second is the music.
Alexander’s, located at 937 East Rosecrans Ave in the city of Compton, is a rock n’ roll themed torta joint.
Restaurant patrons can expect to hear rock radio regulars such as The Beatles, WAR, Blondie and The Ramones.
Posters, framed photos and album covers decorate the dining room walls.
On Tuesdays, the outdoor terrace becomes a stage where local bands perform.
There’s no shortage of things to watch, from Debbie Harry goofing off for the camera to a portrait of Herman and Lily Munster.
Besides the pickup counter, a painting features the Mexican comic superhero “El Chapulin Colorado”.
Alexander’s: World Famous Tortas is the brainchild of co-owners Omar “Alexander” Hernandez and Angelina Rodriguez, a married couple who first met in 2008.
With an emphasis on rock n’ roll, family and quality Mexican cuisine, Alexander’s is one of a kind.
The family have worked hard since the restaurant’s debut in 2013 to make their torta shop a go-to for foodies and music fans alike and they insist COVID-19 is just another hurdle they will overcome.
The path that brought them here first started with Flores’ father, Raul Flores.
Alexander’s has been open for nine years, “But my dad had this place for 20 years, it’s just that at the time he was doing seafood [catering]”Flores said.
It was during this period, before that of Alexandre, that the couple met. Of course, they met at a musical performance.
“A friend invited me to a show and just told me we were going to be taken care of,” Rodriguez said. “He was sitting in the back seat and we ended up talking all night.”
It was 2008, in 2013 Raul Flores came to see his son and daughter-in-law with a proposal.
“My dad asked me if I was getting more involved in the family business… At first it wasn’t something I wanted to pursue because I didn’t think cooking was my desire. But I brought the whole concept of the rock n’ roll theme,” Flores said.
The family closed their seafood restaurant business and got to work. Raul focused his attention on handcrafting the menu for their new restaurant, settling on the staple Mexican sandwich, the torta.
During this time, the couple focused on the theme of their restaurant.
“His dad said if you were going to open it, make it your own,” Rodriguez said.
Flores, a musician himself, knew he wanted rock music to be a central theme. Besides the aesthetic, the couples hosted a weekly open mic for local bands.
The hard work paid off. Their carefully curated menu and open-mic nights created such a stir that they began to attract attention.
“When the LA Times came to the restaurant, it blew up for a few weeks, but the lockdown happened right after,” Flores said.
COVID-19 interrupted their momentum and would bring new challenges, but also unforeseen support.
“We had to kill our walk-ins actually because we had the door closed,” Flores said. “We only took orders through the window, to be safe. We really didn’t want anyone to come in.
Forced to close, inside sales dwindled and the ever-important open-mic nights ceased.
“There was fear for the company,” Flores said. “Even right now there are so many companies coming out, so we were worried about that.”
With a loss of in-store traffic, orders for online delivery services began to surge, becoming their saving grace.
“The first weeks [and] month inside [sales] completely stopped, but that’s where our tablets exploded. Uber, DoorDash, PostMates, GrubHub, all that delivery stuff,” Rodriguez said.
The shutdown of open mic parties was a blow to Flores. In his eyes, music had always been as important as food.
“The main negative impact I felt was when we couldn’t hold events indoors,” Flores said. “My father [told me] since we own the patio, let’s just do it outside, that helped, but it was a weird transition.
Now looking ahead, Flores and Rodriguez ponder what will happen next for Alexander and their family.
“It brought us closer. But we were used to it, you know,” Flores said. “I think other couples weren’t used to seeing each other all the time. But for us it was just another day, we were already always together.
The couple have been together for a long time and besides the fate of the restaurant, they have new responsibilities towards their growing family.
“Two kids later,” Rodriguez added with a smile. “A 12-year-old and a 5-year-old.”
Although the pandemic isn’t over, the couple are confident they’ve survived the worst. There is real pride in knowing that COVID-19 could not defeat their dream and their family and they are looking forward to getting back to their normal lives, focusing on family, food and music.
“Music is everything. That’s everything. Have a good day putting on a certain song. You have a bad day when you put on a certain song. Music is a huge part of our lives,” Rodriguez said .
Flores looks to his partner, both in business and in life, and they examine the restaurant they have built and kept afloat together.
“At first we didn’t take it seriously, we were younger so we were immature. I think now that we are older, we see this as the future for our children,” Flores said. “We now own the property and we work together because we love each other and our children.”