Andrea Torres | Miami Herald
Arturo G. Torres, a Cuban-born entrepreneur who went from washing dishes in Miami Beach to becoming one of the wealthiest Hispanics in the United States, died Saturday of complications from diabetes and cancer. He was 70.
Torres, who lived on Fisher Island, made his fortune by owning Pizza Hut and Taco Bell fast-food franchises around the United States, the Caribbean and Europe.
“One of his missions was to inspire Hispanics in the U.S. to become business owners,” said his daughter Vivian Torres. “He believed in the American dream and was convinced success could happen if you were ambitious and motivated enough.”
Torres was born Nov. 17, 1936, in Matanzas. He left high school to help with his family’s supermarket chain and real estate holdings. At 18, Torres opened his first supermarket in Agramonte, Cuba.
“It was a success. Everything he touched turned into gold,” said his cousin Manuel Sanchez. “He was a marketing genius.”
After Fidel Castro began to seize his holdings, Torres began to plot against him in Agramonte and Varadero. Fearing arrest, Torres and his family went into hiding at a friend’s home in Havana after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961.
With the help of friends, he got an exit visa and fled to Miami disguised as a Catholic priest.
“He left Cuba without a penny,” Sanchez said.
A few months later, Torres’ family joined him. They moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Miami Beach, where he worked at a hotel for about a year until a Presbyterian church helped him and other Cuban refugees to relocate to Amarillo, Texas.
Torres held three jobs: During the day, he worked at a printing shop; at night, he washed dishes at a Pizza Hut restaurant; and on weekends, he worked at a drive-in theater.
Although he had to learn a new language, that was not a limitation for Torres, who quickly developed a reputation for his confident handshakes and warm hospitality.
After taking the initiative to learn the ins and outs of the pizza restaurant, he was promoted to manager of the eatery and later to regional manager for Pizza Hut.
Torres withdrew his savings and acquired a loan to open his first Pizza Hut franchise in Del Rio, Texas.
“No one thought a Pizza Hut in the border could work, but he was a visionary,” said Heriberto Guerro Jr., a former business associate. “To have business coming in from Mexico, he distributed coupons that covered the bridge fee . . . Business was booming.”
In 1972, Torres founded and ran Pizza Management Inc., which owned nearly 240 Pizza Hut and Taco Bell franchises.
“He gave opportunities to a lot of us,” Guerro said. “It was an incredible operation: 53,000 Hispanic officers, district managers . . . We proved that Hispanics were capable to be on the boards of companies and be officers and direct reports.”
Torres appeared several times on Hispanic Business Magazine’s list of the 75 wealthiest Hispanics in America.
Torres and Pizza Hut’s parent company, PepsiCo, had a falling out in 1986, when PepsiCo prevented him from selling his stock.
“He figured we can go out and raise public dollars and provide more opportunities for Latinos,” Guerro said.
Torres sued PepsiCo for breach of contract.
“We were losing in the courtroom, but took our battle to the streets,” Guerro said. “Hispanic businesses around the country showed solidarity by choosing Coke instead of Pepsi.”
In 1992, Torres agreed to sell his empire to PepsiCo for about $130 million. As part of the deal, PepsiCo agreed to create a $5 million fund to help Hispanics open their own franchises.
“The National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights group, got involved in the negotiations,” said Sanchez, Torres’ cousin.
Torres later invested in Play-By-Play Toys & Novelties, a successful toy company with clients such as Walt Disney.
He was involved in numerous organizations, including serving as director of the National Conference of La Raza, and the Cuban American Freedom Foundation, and he was a supporter of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.
“He was a natural leader and a selfless mentor who empowered people,” said Guerro, now CEO of Avanzar Interior Technologies. “He is an inspiration.”
In addition to his daughter Vivian, Torres is survived by his wife of 28 years, Laura Elena Gonzalez; his mother, Valentina; daughters Miriam Beatriz Forbord and Rebecca, Elizabeth, Christina, Laura, Diane and Veronica Torres; and seven grandchildren.
———————————————- Havana Journal Advertisements————————————————
Start your own business online with a good domain name HispanicDomainsForSale.com