YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Family Room

A cigar shop, an Italian market and a country store--all family owned--take visitors to Whittier Boulevard in La Habra far away from neon lights and malls to simpler, savory pleasures.


When Gloria Gomez gets on a roll, her skilled fingers can form 200 cigars in less than a day, covering the counter in front of her with fresh maduros and filling the air around her with the earthy aroma of cut tobacco. To Gomez, it smells just like home.

She first learned the art of blending, packing and rolling cigars 33 years ago in her native Nicaragua, where her family had a table at a small finca, or marketplace. Gomez learned cigar-making from her mother, who learned from her grandmother.

These days, Gomez's working home is on Whittier Boulevard in La Habra, where she is not alone in sustaining the traditions of a family business. Nearby is Claro's Italian Market, whose origins date to the late 1940s. And two blocks east is a country antique and folk art store that houses 29 years of Fairfield family history.

On this stretch of the boulevard, the products are wide-ranging, from Gomez's cigars to Claro's eggplant pizza to the Fairfields' colonial birdhouses. But there is a unifying factor. All bear the crest--or in one case, the crust--of the families who made them.

Burning Love

Few things please Gloria Gomez as much as seeing the fruits of her labor go up in smoke. And few people enjoy those fruits more than Gomez's son, Joe, who helps her run El Beso Handmade Cigars (205 W. Whittier Blvd., [562] 690-7707). Hey, if you're going to create special blends that reflect on your family's cigar-making reputation, you need to sample the product, right?

"In a lot of ways, cigars are like coffee," Joe Gomez said. "Your success is measured by how well you come up with the right blend. It takes trial and experience to develop just the taste you want."

El Beso, which translates to "the kiss," makes and sells 26 varieties of cigar, including two natural lines (mild to light-bodied), one maduro (medium to full-bodied) and four flavored (amaretto, cherry, Kahlua and vanilla). Most El Beso cigars sell for about $4 apiece.

Potential customers might dismiss El Beso cigars when they hear the price, Joe Gomez said. "Some people figure that if it's anything less than an $8 cigar, it can't be any good. We try to make a cigar that pleases the most complex tastes, but we also take a price-conscious approach."

El Beso released its 2000 blend in July, and so far it's been well-received, Gomez said. A particular favorite is one called simply the No. 6 blend. It features a mix of tobaccos from Honduras and the Dominican Republic tucked inside a Connecticut shade wrapper. The cigars have a smooth beginning and a mild, creamy finish, Gomez said. They sell for $3.90 apiece or $90.50 for a bundle of 25.

El Beso also carries name-brand cigars as well as accessories, including humidors ($35.50 to $145).

The Gomezes opened El Beso three years ago and have built a customer base on word of mouth. "It was always my mom's dream to open her own shop," Joe Gomez said.

As she finished a cigar by applying tree sap to hold the wrapper in place, Gloria Gomez said two keys to good cigar-making are developing a good blend and knowing just how much tobacco to pack inside. She compared herself to a baseball pitcher trying to throw more strikes than balls.

Ultimately, it's customers who decide whether El Beso products are hits or misses. "The proof is in the pudding," Joe Gomez said. Or in the puffing.

El Beso is open 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays. It's closed Sundays.

That's Amore

Just east of El Beso is Claro's Italian Market (101 W. Whittier Blvd., [562] 690-2844), where the proof is in the pasta--and the pastries, and the eggplant parmigiana and dozens of other products that are Italian to the core.

Joe and Mary Claro opened their first store in 1948 in San Gabriel as a simple corner grocery store. But with the advent of supermarkets, they found they had to carve out their niche to compete. They decided to focus on all things Italian.

Now granddaughters Mary Linda Daddona and Rosemarie Lippman oversee the family business, which features six Southern California locations, including two in Orange County (the other is in Tustin).

The La Habra store is part deli, part bakery, part grocery and part department store. If you're looking for spinach-and-pasta salad ($3.99 a pound), imported prosciutto ($13.99 a pound), raspberry arugula ($7.99 a pound) and a strainer for making sauces ($29.99), this is your one-stop shop.

Claro's bread and butter is its specialty food and deli items, Daddona said. "When you mention our name, most people think of our pure-pork sausage or our lasagna," she said. However, the ricotta cookies ($5.99 a pound) are also highly recommended.

"We say of our products that they're like you would make if you had the time," Daddona said. "We put a little extra into them to make them special."

Claro's is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day but Sunday, when it's open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Wednesday, when it's closed.

Country Road

Los Angeles Times Articles