Nearly a decade after migrating from Mexico, Ruben Ramirez Sr. and his wife Alicia had opened the business that would support their family for years to come.
It was the 70s and they started small. First came a shop that sold Mexican products. Later they expanded into one Carniceria — a meat market — and a bakery.
Ruben’s Bakery & Mexican Food in Compton took years to build. But it was destroyed within minutes just before sunrise on Tuesday. According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, a mob of more than 100 people robbed the bakery during an illegal street takeover at the intersection of El Segundo Boulevard and North Santa Fe Avenue.
Surveillance videos showed people taking cash registers, an array of food and refrigerated items and anything else that was near them.
“We’ve been here for 40 years,” said Ruben Ramirez Jr., 51. “We survived the Rodney King riots, the pandemic and other things that happen here and there.” “I never thought we would that would happen.”
The estimated damage is over $70,000, an economic impact that will hurt a business that was already struggling since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ramirez Jr. said. Beyond the repairs, the company will be underprepared for the busy season, including Día de Los Reyes Magos, or Epiphany, on Saturday.
“I have mixed feelings; “Sometimes I’m really angry, sometimes I’m sad,” Ramirez Jr. said. “My father is 83 years old. He’s the one who started it. And to see how he looks at the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into [Jan. 2]That just broke my heart.”
Neighborhood residents said this week that Tuesday’s rampage was unlike anything they had seen before, even though they were used to weekly street robberies with car donuts and burnouts.
Deputy Miguel Meza, a spokesman for the sheriff’s department, said police received calls at 3:25 a.m. reporting a “burglary in progress” at Ruben’s Bakery & Mexican Food and a street takeover at the nearby intersection.
Meza said street takeovers result in a crowd blocking an intersection and using the area for street racing stunts. Tuesday’s crowd left skid marks from car donuts on the street and lit a fire in the middle of the intersection, feeding it with dried-out Christmas trees left by residents on the sidewalk.
Exterior surveillance video showed a white Kia Soul backing into the store’s doorway as crowds surrounded the entrance. The vehicle hit the door twice more. A woman stepped in front of the vandals and appeared to block people from entering the store by extending her arms outward and pushing them away. Inside the store, the thieves piled groceries on their arms and ransacked the shelves and front counter.
After receiving a call from the store’s alarm company, Ramirez Jr. said he went to the bakery about 25 minutes after the shooting. As he drove there, he said, he saw the store’s shopping baskets lying on the street.
When he arrived, he found cash registers missing, money stolen and chips and food strewn across the floor.
“My stomach dropped,” he said.
Ramirez Jr. said he was grateful for the police’s quick response and noted that officers were already on the scene when he arrived.
Meza said officers initially had difficulty reaching the location due to blocked roads. However, Hugo Castillo, a baker at the store, said he had no trouble getting to the eatery for his shift at the time of the break-in. When he saw the crowd, Castillo said, he retreated from the store.
Castillo is out of work for now until the store can reopen. The violence that occurred did not shock him, he said, because he had been attacked and robbed before.
Josue Gonzalez, a cashier at the General Liquor Store next door, also said he wasn’t intimidated by the takeover but expressed concerns that his own store might not be able to withstand the looting.
“It’s not like you’re setting off” he said, pointing to the metal security gates. “I don’t think it would hold.”
Car donuts and burnouts are common in the neighborhood divided by Santa Fe Avenue at Lynwood and Compton, said Geraldo Ortiz, a longtime resident.
Ortiz said there have been calls for greater road safety on the Lynwood side in recent years. Lately, he said, the community has been collecting signatures for a red light or stop sign at the intersection of Banning Avenue and Santa Fe, a block from where Tuesday’s street takeover occurred.
Ortiz said he often stopped by Ruben’s Bakery on his way to work, where he picked up a bolillo and a cup of coffee.
Ramirez Jr. said the neighborhood has rallied behind the bakery since the looting. Members contribute donations to the store’s GoFundMe account and write comments like “We need these bolillos!!” and “Community advocacy is a beautiful act of kindness.”
The city administration is also involved in the restoration.
“We must support our local businesses and ensure criminals know that we will not tolerate the destruction of our beloved local institutions that are the backbone of our city,” Compton City Councilman Andre Spicer said in a statement. “Our office donated supplies to the business, including paint to cover up any graffiti, helping to restore its business ahead of 3 Kings Day.”
Your words have buoyed the family in a time of need. Normally, the company would have ordered about 100 roscas – a round pastry that is a traditional part of Epiphany celebrations. Now they’re baking as much as possible before Friday’s opening.
“Our goal going forward is to be back in business like it’s December. 31,” Ramirez Jr. said.