An unexpected connection sparks a successful local tequila brand

With the help of friends, an unforeseen connection and unrelenting persistence, a Torrance native makes a longtime dream a reality by opening a bar and restaurant and launching a tequila brand.

WRITTEN BY JENNIE NUNN | PHOTOGRAPHED BY MONICA OROZCO


More than a decade ago while working at a cocktail lounge in Santa Monica, Torrance native Blake Landis made an unexpected friendship with one of the busboys, which changed the course of his life. “He could barely speak English, and I said to him, ‘You can teach me Spanish, and I can teach you English,’” says Blake, a UC Santa Barbara graduate.

Starting there at Bar Chloe in downtown Santa Monica, Blake and Oaxacan-born immigrant Hernán Fernando (who initially worked as a dishwasher at P.F. Chang’s and worked his way up to line cook) formed a lifelong bond that began by practicing English and Spanish and writing phrases on blank credit card printouts and receipt paper at the empty bar before opening each night.

“People would look at us like we were crazy,” says Blake. “Hernán told me how his family had fallen on hard times and he grew up with no water and no electricity. When he was 20, about to study engineering in Mexico City, he got a call that his dad left the family. So he decided to cross the border and move to L.A. and send money back to his family. When he told me that and I saw that kind of selflessness, I realized I didn’t have anything to feel bad about. I thought, ‘This kid works so hard, and he’s the underdog.’ His selflessness, determination and open heart changed my life. I decided I wanted to help him on his journey.”

One afternoon in 2007, Blake—whose dream was to someday open his own bar and restaurant with friends including college roommate John Weir—wrote down a question for Hernán for Spanish translation on a credit card printout.

“I asked him how to say, ‘One day soon we’ll own a bar together,’” recalls Blake. “And that’s when it all really started.”

In 2013 they opened Cinco, an Oaxacan-influenced restaurant and bar in Westchester—along with John, Ben Molina and Will Smith—after a long, grueling location search and doing much of the construction and design
themselves.

The restaurant features Platos de Zoila—original recipes from Hernán’s mother, Zoila—including tacos al carbon with grilled New York steak served on tortillas and topped with sautéed onions, jalapenos and guacamole, and chile relleno, a lightly battered and fried stuffed poblano pepper with shredded pork, chicken, raisins, almonds, capers and olives.

Last year they launched Angelisco, a tequila that they co-own with a family from the highlands of Jalisco, and they have plans in the works for a line of mezcal. “We saw an opportunity to bring an all-natural premium quality tequila to people at a non-premium price,” explains Blake. “It’s a chance to share an honest product without additives or artificial finishing agents with the world.”

But it was much more than just a good business venture, as Blake shares: “It’s also a chance to expand our community values beyond the reach of Cinco. We have the opportunity to be an example of how families from the U.S. and Mexico can transcend racial lines, come together and create something beautiful to share with the world.”

Now, after years of hard work and unwavering determination, it’s obvious Blake and Hernán and the entire staff at Cinco have become like family. “At Cinco I look forward to watching all of our kids grow up via family get-togethers, and maybe eventually having their first jobs there,” says Blake. “And what I love about Angelisco is that we are cultivating a massive family. It doesn’t matter how old you are, where you’re from, where you live, what language you speak, because the connection is rooted in the love for agave spirits. The tequila is the foot in the door, the excuse and the reason for us to get out there, meet new people, make new friends, new experiences and make this world a smaller place filled with more love.”

 

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