La Puente fruit vendors’ rise to TikTok fame through impressive cutting skills – NBC Los Angeles

“Todos andamos detrás de un sueño.” We are all chasing a dream. 

Alejandro Isabel and his wife, Daniela Benítez, are up before the sun is out at 5 a.m., as they prepare for a long day ahead. 

He heads out to the market to purchase watermelon, coconut, honeydew, mango and other fruits for their street vending business, and heads back home.

As he gets their truck set up, Benítez gets the children ready for school. Once the children are ready and dropped off, the couple loads up their truck with all of their fruit, ice and their two vending carts.

Isabel is the owner of the El Ninja, a fruit vending business in La Puente, a city in the San Gabriel Valley.

The couple has garnered a massive following of over 960,000 in the last several months by going live on TikTok, where thousands of people admire their cutting skills as they slice up fruit for their customers. 

Every day, Isabel drops off his wife at her usual location on Azusa Way, helps her set up her cart and then heads over to his usual spot on Hacienda Boulevard. 

Only about three miles away from each other, they prepare for their daily flow of customers.

How it all started

When Isabel first came to California about 10 years ago, he connected with a fruit vending company that showed him the ropes of street vending. They taught him how to set up his own cart, where to buy his fruit and how to get his business up and running. 

There, he met his now wife and the two have been working side by side ever since. Both of them are from Puebla, a city in Mexico.

“The truth is that we both started from scratch, we both started without having anything,” Benitez said. “We’re very compatible, we both have good thoughts. We always have the saying that ‘two heads are better than one,’ so we always share our thoughts.”

Isabel says he feels “very fortunate to have a woman who is hard working like me. I think that has helped us grow because we are both very hard workers and we think the same way in any business we are going to do.”

When they first began their business, they started in Whittier. But when they noticed the La Puente area did not have many street vendors, they decided to try their luck there. They have been selling there for the past six years. 

Isabel described La Puente as a calm community, He said he appreciates the support among businesspeople. 

“We are also very grateful for having arrived in this city because all the people help you, all the people support you,” Benítez said. “We are very happy to be in this city of La Puente.”

Isabel said he appreciates the mutual support from other businesses.

Starting their social media presence

Isabel said he first got the idea to start posting on social media thanks to his wife. 

During the pandemic, Benítez said she had a lot of free time. She began taking makeup courses to learn techniques. 

She began posting her beauty content on her own social media accounts and suggested the idea of sharing content about their business to her husband. 

“And well, she had told me many times but I wasn’t so much like ‘oh yes, I’m going to do it too,’” Isabel said.

But after seeing other accounts on social media where business owners would share content, he thought “well I can do it too.”

“When I saw that he started to gain a lot of followers by doing lives and uploading content, he also told me ‘well, you can take advantage of that by mixing the business with (makeup),’” said Benítez. “Truthfully, there are lots of people who will support you.”

Benítez said she has met people who have shown up to her fruit stand after seeing her on social media. 

“There have been new people who tell me ‘I came because I saw you on live and I craved the fruit,” Benítez said. 

Gaining popularity

The couple shares content of their fruit vending business on their accounts. Isabel’s TikTok account has over 960,000 followers, and his wife’s account has over 85,000 followers. 

The couple can be found on TikTok at @elninja17_ and his wife can be found at @lamaylob.

They often go live on TikTok, where thousands of people quickly join and the questions and comments start pouring in. 

“18K people in here. WOW,” one user commented. “Wish we had one where I’m at like this guy,” another user said. 

Isabel said their presence on social media has helped their business immensely since they started posting about seven months ago. 

The first time he went live on TikTok, he recalled having a small number of viewers.

“I remember that there were like 40 or 30 people watching, and we got very excited because I said ‘a lot of people are asking what we do’ and it was very few people,” Isabel said.

The second time he went live he had about 30 to 50 people watching. “I was a little nervous because I didn’t know what to say,” Isabel said. “At first it was something new for us.”

By the third time he went live, his viewer count jumped from 30 to 20,000 people who joined his livestream. “I thought ‘wow! This is great for my business,” Isabel said. 

That day, all of the customers who showed up to his fruit stand came from TikTok, Isabel recalled. 

“Since then, I have dedicated myself to doing the lives, to putting content onto my social media,” Isabel said. “And also adding a little of our personalities, the way we are, good vibes, and trying to make sure people have fun for a while on my live.”

Sharing their life and culture

Questions about where they are located, what kind of fruit they carry and what the seasoning they sprinkle on top of the fruit is, are all common questions during their live streams. 

“The most surprising thing to me is that in other countries, they don’t know what Tajín and chamoy are,” Benítez said. “A lot of people ask me for the recipe for chamoy.” 

Tajin is a brand of popular seasoning used mainly for fruit consisting of chili peppers, lime, and salt. It has a powder or flakey consistency. Chamoy is a sauce also commonly used on fruit that also consists of chili peppers, lime, and salt.

Benítez makes and sells her own chamoy sauce.  

Most of their content and their livestreams consist of them working at their fruit stand, slicing up the fruit and interacting with their customers as well as and with their followers on social media. 

The couple said that what seems to captivate their viewers the most is the couple’s cutting technique. Both Isabel and Benítez use a large knife to swiftly cut through the watermelon, coconut, honeydew and cucumbers in a matter of seconds. 

Many people watching their live stream comment on how quickly they cut through the produce, which is why a lot of their content consists of closeups of them slicing up the fruit. 

Some viewers even question how they manage to not cut themselves when moving so fast. 

Isabel said his favorite fruits to cut are mango and cucumbers, and his wife’s favorite is watermelon. 

They both agreed the hardest one to prepare is the coconut. 

Their live streams receive comments from users all over the world, including Peru, Italy, Ecuador, Spain, Mexico and Portugal. 

Their social media presence has grown so much that they are being visited not only by locals in the area, but also people around the country and the world who are visiting California. 

Isabel says he’s met customers who are visiting from Texas, Miami, New York and even Mexico and Costa Rica.

“What we like most is to socialize and meet more people,” Isabel said. “The love that is felt. There are always new people and new things every day. “

People who have viewed their content on social media have also hired them to cater for events and parties.

The impact of their business

Through their business, Isabel said they were able to help some of their relatives start their own business. Their family members worked under Isabel for some time after he helped them get set up with their fruit vending carts and get their permits. 

“I feel very happy, we feel proud of ourselves,” Isabel said. He said he feels a sense of satisfaction having been able to help his family members.

In addition to helping their family members, Isabel and Benítez also offer support to other street vendors.

With the recent damage from a massive fire on the 10 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles, the couple said they have helped donate to other street vendors who suffered losses to their business due to the fire. 

Benítez says that through her account, people quickly find out about her husband’s. She said they often go live and support each other, which is how their followers end up supporting both accounts. 

“I am very grateful for everything I have had and for everything this business has given me,” Benitez said.

Almost at 1 million followers

El Ninja currently has over 960,000 followers on TikTok and is close to reaching the one million follower mark. Through their accounts, they try to keep their audience engaged, often doing giveaways for their viewers.  

“We do not rule out the possibility that later we may look for other cities, or perhaps something bigger,” said Isabel. “God willing, and if everything turns out well and if people continue to support us as they have supported us.”

El Ninja is located at 605 Azusa Way and 925 N. Hacienda Blvd. in La Puente.

Their content can be found on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.

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