Founded in 1998, El Bolillo Bakery has blossomed into one of Houston’s favorite bakeries, now with three locations, its newest in Pasadena, Texas. “I think we’re in a great position,” says owner Kirk Michaelis with strong confidence. “We have big enough buying power to offer good value and good price points. Our ideals are serving the community and giving customers a really good product at a really good price. This store is our future. We think we have our model right.”
El Bolillo’s Pasadena location is a 12,000-square-foot store that features several convenient self-serve stations where customers can pick up fresh donuts and churros or freshly made tortillas. There is also an innovative bolillo station where freshly baked bolillos are loaded into bins from the back, oven room and, up front, customers can use tongs to select as many fresh bolillos as they want.
On the opposite side of the store, customers go to order custom cakes including dozens of options of tres leches cakes, which El Bolillo is best known for.
One upcoming new project will involve adding a coffee program to El Bolillo’s Airline Drive location. “We’ve learned how to make really good coffee,” says Michaelis, who trained in a barista coffee skills program.
The owner of El Bolillo takes great care to teach and preach great customer service, which means looking every customer in the eye with a smile and addressing each one personally with a caring, can-do attitude.
The foundation of the bakery’s future success relies on this company culture of promoting excellence from within and rewarding hard-working employees with greater responsibilities and promotions.
“At El Bolillo, people come first, and money comes second,” Michaelis says. “I want to bring people up in management and let the employees who deserve it take charge. Our team has built El Bolillo into what it is today. Even with new hires, our team brings people in and, if they don’t mesh, they let ‘em know.”
Mariel Rascon, store manager of the Pasadena location, is a perfect example of talent rising to the top, having worked her way up from cashier when she started at El Bolillo six years ago to managing the Pasadena bakery’s daily operations. She has the personable charm to succeed both with helping customers and guiding employees to help them reach their goals.
“When you start working here you learn that everybody cares about everybody,” she says. “We have customers who come here every day, so it is important to treat them with respect and take care of what they are looking for. People are looking for new things every season. We are always trying out new cookie and cake decorations.”
Rascon, who is pursuing a graphic design degree, also helps customers with graphic ideas so that El Bolillo is capable to customizing customer’s own artwork.
“We have a very creative team here for creating new ideas,” she says.
For Michaelis, the bakery business is all about family, which includes each and every one of the company’s 276 employees.
El Bolillo has received many awards, including the prestigious Prudential 2018 Positive Impact Award and proclamation and key to the city of Pasadena, Texas, to recognize April 26, 2018, as El Bolillo Bakery Day.
Michaelis knows what it is like to be a survivor. After being diagnosed with cancer more than a decade ago and being told that he had a slim chance of survival, his understanding of being a giving person changed. There wasn’t a day that went by without a hug, gift or prayer from a customer, priest, teacher or someone whom he had previously impacted through his friendliness and philanthropy.
Three years later and being cancer free, he decided to change his life and business model, making his customers and employees a top priority and investing back into their communities. Michaelis supports his employees through their life battles, many of whom have been working for him since the beginning. He also gives them the freedom to be artisans and create new types of products every week.
In that same spirit, Michaelis celebrates artistic freedom. Inside El Bolillo’s Pasadena store is a hand-carved sculpture of a religious scene that a local artist had carved from a tree. Michaelis saw the beauty of the sculpture and asked the artist if wished to sell it. The artist agreed, and Michaelis decided to display it inside the bakery in a glass-enclosed case to protect it, so that all can enjoy its beauty, alongside the beautiful cakes and pastries on display at El Bolillo.