AS A CHILD in the first Hispanic family on his Fairhill block, Luis Torrado had to street fight to end the ethnic taunts from neighbor kids and gain their respect.
As owner of Torrado Construction in Port Richmond, he's spent his adult years fighting negative attitudes toward hiring minority contractors by proving himself over and over again.
It's been a long, tough journey since he grew up on Mascher Street near Tusculum in the '70s.
"You had a choice," Torrado said. "You could bow down or you could fight. I used to fight. I was scrapping out there.
"Win or lose, it's usually over fast and they won't bother you anymore," he said. "You have to fistfight first and then you become friends."
When the family moved to Oxford Circle, Torrado experienced more of the same prejudice as a teenager, overcame it and still has friends from those days.
Torrado, 47, has always been a real Philly guy.
"I used to go to Eagles vs. Flyers charity softball games that they played at Max Myers Playground in the '70s," Torrado said.
"I'd draw pictures of Ron Jaworski, Bernie Parent and Bobby Clarke, and take them to the game so they could sign them," he said. "I sure wish I could find those pictures today."
Torrado learned drafting at the Swenson Skills Center in Northeast Philadelphia when he was 16, then studied architecture at Community College of Philadelphia and Temple, and learned construction management at Drexel.
He spent the '90s working for contractors on home building and remodeling, then started Torrado Construction in a former Port Richmond bottling plant in 2002.
Torrado has spent 15 years renovating high-end residences and partnering on city projects including the masonry and stonework for Dilworth Park at City Hall and for Gorgas Park in Roxborough.
But despite his years of experience, Torrado often ran into an under-the-radar residue of those long-gone childhood battles - an unspoken wall of reluctance among major developers to hire minority contractors.
"I realized a lot of the people didn't think I was big enough or thought I didn't know enough," Torrado said. "Basically, I was being typecast. I've been in construction all my life, but I always found myself explaining where I came from and what I've done.
"I just kept knocking on doors and I didn't quit," he said. "I kept bidding, kept letting them know I'm around. Over the years, I built the business up to the point where we changed perception.
"I think we broke that barrier," Torrado said. "I still have to work harder than the next subcontractor. I still believe we have to prove ourselves all the time."
Last year, Torrado returned to CCP for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, which he said has been a godsend.
"It's like a business boot camp," Torrado said. "I was kind of in my own little bubble and pretty tough on myself. I had a tendency to hold myself back because I didn't think I was ready. This gave me more confidence.
"Our revenues went from $3 million to $4 million a year to almost $9 million last year to being on track to do over $10 million this year," Torrado said happily.
His company, which has more than 50 percent minority employees, is partnering on construction of the second Comcast tower, the rebuild of the Gallery at Market East and the installation of huge stainless-steel doors in City Hall for the pope's visit.
Those barriers that Torrado's battled since his Fairhill childhood are at long last broken.
The lifelong Philly guy has won the hard-earned respect of the city he's always loved.
On Twitter: @DanGeringer