Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
José Cáceres remembers roaming the busy streets of Mexico City as a kid and yelling, “Roscas, Roscas de cinco y a diez” to help his mother, Doña Josefina, sell her freshly baked roscas, conchas, and other traditional Mexican breads and pastries.
He recalls his mother constantly mixing and baking until her creations reached that golden brown crust. Those images, memories formed inside his mother’s humble bakery “La Purísima” – located next to a coal shop – are still alive today.
“My mother was an entrepreneur, and she taught us how to bake,” José told the Rivard Report in Spanish. “She taught us the love for this craft.”
Almost 30 years later, José is now set to open his second bakery in San Antonio alongside his brother and master baker David Cáceres – but this time in the heart of downtown. The flagship “La Panadería,” located at 8305 Broadway St., opened back in April 2014.
The new downtown location, on the corner of East Houston and Navarro streets, had a soft opening Saturday but will officially open on June 9 and feature popular menu items from the original location such as tortas, conchas, and the popular tequila almond croissant, as well as soups and salads. In addition, La Panadería will feature a new dinner menu with open face pepitos, additional dessert options, and beer and wine.
“We are using wood and marble in our tables because those are the materials we use when we are producing the bread and we want people to really feel like they are inside of a bakery,” David said.
In addition to the tongs and trays used in typical Mexican panaderías to pick and choose bread to go, the bakery and café will feature a coffee station and a cake display. As patrons get ready to check out, they will be able to see David and his team baking away behind the cash register.
“This is the culmination of more than 30 years of baking experience,” José said. “People always tell us that our conchas are delicious, but that is the work of all those years of learning. The recipe has evolved; it’s a process.”
When David and José’s mother passed away in 1994 after a long battle with cancer, José took it upon himself to continue the family business in Mexico. After finishing a master’s degree in business and finance, he set his mind to industrialize operations.
“We jumped on board with Walmart and would produce all the bread for Vips restaurants in Mexico,” David said. “We could produce up to 150,000 pieces a day. Years later, in 2009, we singed on with Alsea, one of the biggest restaurant operating companies in Mexico.”
But a yearning to go back to the artisanal methods of baking bread pushed David to enroll in Le Cordon Bleu to become a professional baker. Afterwards, he went to the San Francisco Baking Institute to complete an apprenticeship under Michel Suas, considered to be one of the best bakers in the United States.
“José has great skills with people, so he’s in charge of the front of the house and I deal with everything in the kitchen and production,” David said. “I go to sleep thinking about how I can change or better our product. This is our world.”
While David was finishing up his apprenticeship with Suas, José went to California, Texas, and Florida to figure out where they should open a bakery in the U.S.
“San Antonio was the friendliest city and we saw the momentum of growth when we visited, so we decided we wanted to contribute to that boom,” José said. “We came in 2013 and began selling our bread at the Quarry Farmer’s Market, so it was like we were starting all over again – just like we were selling in the markets of Mexico.”
A myriad of black and white photos from the ’50s of panaderos riding bicycles while carrying baskets full of bread on their head line the walls of La Panadería, a reminder for the brothers of their humble beginnings. A golden brown mural by local artist Claudio Aguillon lines the entrance to the restrooms, an homage to the golden brown crust of perfectly baked bread.
“All the unified elements in the bakery and every detail was done thinking of how we could communicate our feelings,” José said. “The panadería has always been a concept, a way of living for us. Another thing we’ve learned all these years is to put an intention in everything that we do and we want to share that passion with San Antonio.”
The brothers still make a point to taste bread wherever they travel together, something which their mother instilled in them from a very young age. David has made it a point to combine different baking techniques from all over the world, gathered from his travels.
“Wherever we go we look for bakeries and look for that origin,” David said. “We’ve searched for it in places like Russia, Italy, and Germany. I consider myself more than just Mexican, I’ve gotten influences from all over the world. Our staple tequila almond croissant is a fusion of a french product, just like me.”
For José, the bakery not only symbolizes his childhood, but a coming together at the dinner table – a symbol of family connections and deep traditions.
“A girl at the farmer’s market came up to us once after trying a concha and said, ‘The last thing my mom and I did before crossing la frontera was go to a panadería and eat a concha together. After we crossed the border we never returned to Mexico and I’ve never had one since,'” José said. “Those stories – that connection and bond to flavor and memory – that’s what brings all of us together.”