Humberto “The Chori-Man” Raygoza is the embodiment of the American Dream. He spent part of his childhood in Mexico, where he witnessed firsthand the passion and determination of running a family business. Now he’s the proud owner of The Chori-Man, a San Pedro, CA restaurant serving artisan chorizos, meats and its famous Chori-Man Breakfast Burrito. Raygoza’s story is one of inspiration for never giving up on one’s dream against all odds.
When did your love for food start?
I grew up in Palmdale, in California’s Antelope Valley. To make ends meet, my parents would make chorizo and cater Birria for parties. When we had school vacations, they would send us to our uncles in Zacatecas, Mexico, and we would hang out in their family-owned restaurants, butcher shops and cattle ranches. Both sides of my family are in the food/meat business.
What did you learn from these summers with your family in Mexico?
I learned so much just observing and helping out. I learned that owning your own business was incredibly hard, exciting, satisfying but also a norm, if you will. And growing up seeing how very challenging and possible it all was, I think made me hungry for it.
You’re a fourth-generation, artisan chorizo maker. How did your family get started with making chorizo?
My great grandfather on my father’s side was the first to start producing chorizo and other meat goods in the small town where they’re from. That is where butchering and cattle-ranching started in the Raygoza family.
How did you get the nickname “The Chori-Man?”
In the late eighties and early nineties, my parents were making chorizo out of our little apartment and selling it on the street to make extra money. Customers couldn’t remember my dad’s name (also Humberto Raygoza), but they remember the man who sold chorizo, giving him the nickname “El Chori.” So, it was only fitting to name my own family business after him, the original Chori-Man.
What inspired you to launch The Chori-Man Artisan Chorizos & Sausages?
I was a full-time college student and having second thoughts about school. I took a six month break and went to Zacatecas to help with the construction of our family home. After spending time with one of my favorite uncles, I explained to him that I wasn’t happy with school and wanted to start a little business. He immediately mentioned chorizo – he knew that my dad had such success with it – and that I could start there and maybe even own a carnicería in the States one day.
I liked the idea of a chorizo business because we had built a great reputation on that in the past. So when I returned to L.A., I got to work right away. I sold and bartered everything I owned just to get enough money and resources to get started.
Do you still have “The Chori-Mobile” as a memento of those early days?
Yes! I still have the Chori-Mobile, one of the coolers and the original carnitas wooden paddle that I used to stir the chorizo adobo into the meat. I don’t think I’ll ever let them go. They’re such a great reminder of how far I’ve come, especially on the tough days when I feel I can’t go on.
You were voted L.A.’s Best Chorizo in 2018. What makes your chorizos stand out from the others?
Even though some of the old school chorizo-making techniques have been modernized, we still hold true to quality ingredients in all of our family recipes. No fillers and no added fats to our products. You buy our pork chorizos, you get pork shoulder, chilis and spices. We pride ourselves on the quality and especially the consistency of our chorizos. I’ve worked really hard to have a product that I can be proud of and that represents my family’s craft in the way that they deserve.
Was there a lot of pressure to live up to that honor?
Oh yeah! My family was the harshest critic of all. They were always checking in on me and telling me how it has to be done or how it should be changed or what flavors seem off. There was also a generational gap because they made chorizo in large batches but not to scale for wholesale. They didn’t understand that I was trying to honor our recipes and culture and to keep the integrity of it all while having to make small changes or sacrifices to conduct business properly here in the States.
What was the initial feedback from customers?
When I first started, my customers knew what they wanted from their chorizos because of the memories they held of their own grandmas making it from scratch for them as kids. You know how hard it is to compete with Abuelas?!? But I knew that if I stuck to the family recipe and kept my product’s consistency, I could educate those new to eating chorizo and also bring out those beautiful memories for those who grew up eating it.
What kinds of challenges did you face early on while establishing your business? What kept you going?
I worked a full-time job, clocked out and I’d go immediately to work on my chorizos. For the first five years, I worked 16-hour days with no breaks. I also didn’t have any investors or start-up income. I had to learn everything an hour at a time and push through all of the financial, mental and physical health struggles on my own. It was my passion that kept me going. I truly enjoy what I do and create. I’m so glad I never gave up.
Talk about your best selling menu items.
The Chori-Man Breakfast Burrito with Zacatecano red chicken chorizo is our bestseller. Crispy potatoes, cheese, two fresh cracked runny eggs and our red chorizo wrapped in a flour tortilla.
When I was starting out I needed a vehicle for people to buy my chorizo. The Chori-Man Breakfast Burrito was born setting up a pop-up tent outside of breweries and farmers markets, selling chorizos by the pound and a breakfast burrito.
What makes them so unique and delicious?
Many places fill their burritos with fillers like lettuce, potatoes, rice or veggies. For us, the chorizos and our meats are the stars of the show. Our meat to filler ratio is perfect. You get four full ounces of meat. I also stand by every burrito having two fresh cracked runny eggs. Simple, yes, but delicious every time.
How do you source your ingredients?
When we first started out, I used whatever I could find for the best price. As we grew, we were able to start incorporating other, small, family-owned businesses, local farms or well-known reputable distributors. I felt like I was finally able to source not only what I loved and wanted to sell to my customers, but also what aligned with my personal values.
The pandemic challenged me once again when supply shortages made us all take a huge hit. I found myself starting all over and scavenging for whatever we could find to survive. It wasn’t even about prices anymore, but rather who has these things we desperately needed. Around town, a few restaurants and ours would share cups and napkins and take an extra case of chicken if we found it, just to call each other up and see who needed it. It was wild.
How are you and your team doing now?
At the end of last year I told my wife I felt like I was on a hamster wheel and didn’t see any other choice but to close down. Things were looking bleak and scary. It was so demoralizing. I kept reminding myself that I made it through those two years. So I decided to change directions. I asked my wife to become my business partner and we became a 100% family-owned business this year.
Little by little, we’ve taken a good, hard and honest look at our entire business, from our products to our staffing, process, operations and suppliers. We have made tough but necessary decisions. So far they’ve paid off, but only time will tell.
How does your business honor your roots?
I grew up watching both sides of my family pour a lot of love, respect and honor into their businesses and craft. I think about them often when I make decisions or when I open my shop in the mornings. I have a two-and-a-half-year-old son named Emiliano who loves being in the shop. I honor my roots in the way that I carry myself and what I am now teaching my son. I honor my family in the way I am leading my little family. That’s very important to me.
How does it celebrate the city of Los Angeles?
The Chori-Man is another grassroots story full of love, passion and heartbreak. Los Angeles is filled with stories of dreamers trying to make it and where those dreams really can come true. The city embraced us from the start and I’m so proud to say that The Chori-Man was born in L.A.
What’s coming up for The Chori-Man?
We are looking ahead with excitement. We’ve been through hell and back. We are ready to grow and thrive. We know that the last two years were only the beginning of some of the greatest challenges we will face. But for the first time in a very long time, we feel humbly and wildly optimistic, and that’s a pretty great feeling.
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