How LAUSD’s classic coffee cake evolved and led to love

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The LAUSD coffee cake is served in schools across LA County. Photo credit: Danielle Chiriguayo.

Today we stroll down memory lane on Greater LA. The journey starts with a really yummy piece of coffee cake that reporter Danielle Chiriguayo brought into our office. She tells her story below.

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If you grew up in the LA Unified School District, you and I might have something in common: an appreciation for the LAUSD coffee cake.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it after recently strolling down memory lane.

See the original 1954 LAUSD coffee cake recipe here.

So I did a social media search and realized I wasn’t alone:

I decided to track down some kindred spirits -- from Apple Valley to Marina Del Rey.

I met Evelen Guirguis, the cafeteria manager at Marina Del Rey Middle School. Kids know her as the “coffee cake lady” or “Evelen Coffee Cake.”

She walked me through the baking process, and informed me that the cafeteria at Marina Del Rey is among the few that still bake coffee cake from scratch.

Or as “scratch” as possible. The majority of the mix now comes in pre-packaged bags to streamline the baking process.


Today’s coffee cake is made from a pre-packaged mix. Credit: Danielle Chiriguayo

Rewriting the recipe for 2020

The earliest documented recipe is from 1954, according to LAUSD nutritionist Ivy Marx.

“Over 60 years ago, we weren’t concerned -- not so much -- about obesity, high blood pressure … and the nutrition standards weren’t very strict,” Marx said.

With the original recipe, each slice had some 600 calories, 20 grams of fat, and 10-12 teaspoons of sugar.

With today’s recipe, one serving contains about a fraction of the original calories, 5 grams of fat, and 2.5 teaspoons of sugar. It’s made with whole grain flour.

Over the decades, healthy-eating initiatives have changed what foods are served at LAUSD schools. But the coffee cake still reigns supreme. On days when it’s served, more students get in cafeteria lines across the region, according to LAUSD metrics.

Love via coffee cake

During my online deep dive, I came across a Facebook page called Mrs Looneys LAUSD Coffee Cake.

It’s run, in part, by East LA native Eliseo Montoya. But he wasn’t an LAUSD kid growing up. He went to a local Catholic school.

And yet, the coffee cake was a mainstay throughout his childhood.
Some days growing up, his mom would send him across the street to Belvedere Junior High to buy slices of the cake. It’d be a treat for the family.

About 10 years ago, as Montoya explained, he was at a crossroads. He felt nostalgic for his school boy days. So he went on Facebook to look for his junior high flame, Sonia Fregoso. He was neighbors with her, and they saw each other daily.

“I saw her walking, a big old smile and everything, and [she] just caught my eye. And we flirted and she picked up on me. She [was] flirting with me and winked at me. And I was just an innocent Catholic school boy,“ Montoya said.

As they began to reconnect, he learned that Fregoso made LAUSD coffee cake.

“She would just do it here and there for her and the kids. So I [would] taste [it], and I was like, ‘Wow,’ ” Montoya said.

As time passed, Montoya and Fregoso ended up back together. They even got married.

But they ran into financial problems, couldn’t find work, and were facing eviction. Montoya collected cans on the streets. Some days, he made $20. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to buy a few burgers for his family.

Then a family friend of theirs had an idea. Why not sell the coffee cake?

“So I went on Facebook and took a picture of the coffee cake. And we had a great sale. We didn't make a killing, but we were able to eat and help pay rent and keep our head above water. We did that for a couple of months. And just to the graciousness of our friends and their friends ... it was a life-saving moment for us,” Montoya recounted.

Today, the Montoyas are out of the financial red zone. They do the bake sales if they need a little extra cash, or when there’s a special occasion or holiday.

For Montoya, the coffee cake is more than a warm memory. “Everything that I've experienced with this coffee cake has been love. It was love that [Sonia] made it, and she would make it for her children. It was love that my mom would say, ‘Hey, you know, I want to give you guys a treat, go across the street and go get so many slices of coffee cake and bring it back.’ It was love that my friend suggested that we sell it and helped us to get it started,” Montoya said.


The original 1954 LAUSD coffee cake recipe:

  • Bakers’ flour - 2 ½ cups
  • Brown sugar, packed - 1 cup
  • Granulated sugar - ½ cup + 1 tbsp
  • Salt - 1 tsp.
  • Nutmeg - 1 tsp.
  • Salad oil - ¾ cup
  • Cinnamon - 1 tsp.
  • Baking soda - 1 tsp.
  • Baking powder - 1 tsp.
  • Egg - 1 (large size)
  • Buttermilk - 1 cup

Combine the first six ingredients. Mix until crumbly. Reserve ½ cup of the above for topping. Add the cinnamon. Combine the last four ingredients and add to the first mixture. Blend together, but do not over-mix. 

Put in a greased 9” x 13” cake pan. Sprinkle the cinnamon crumb topping over the top of the batter. Bake at 350 to 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. 

--Written by Danielle Chiriguayo