Larry J. Cano, 90, the founder of the El Torito restaurant chain who helped popularize guacamole, fajitas, and margaritas with the U.S. masses, died of pancreatic cancer Dec. 10 at his home in Corona Del Mar, Calif., his former assistant Lee Healy confirmed Monday.
Mr. Cano, who served as a fighter pilot during World War II, took over a closed-down Polynesian restaurant in Los Angeles in 1954 and turned it into the first El Torito.
He served a mild version of Mexican food that was friendly to mid-century American tastes at a time when there was a burgeoning hunger for the cuisine. Mr. Cano said a more authentic cuisine might have scared off many American diners when he was starting out.
Mr. Cano expanded the restaurant to 22 locations by the time he sold the chain in 1978 to New York-based W.R. Grace & Co. He stayed on as president, overseeing the opening of nearly 200 outlets by his 1988 retirement. - AP