Engulfed in the most severe pandemic in recent American history, panaderías are responding with determination and innovative spirit to bring comfort and joy to their local customers across the land. This remains a hectic time, but not one without budding optimism. For it is the authentic tastes of breads and sweet goods native to Latin America that evoke comforting feelings of better days ahead. Bread is hope. There is a certainty and promise to the flavors that remind people of tradition and love.
For Amelia Vaca Santoyo at Carnitas Uruapan in Lamont, Calif., the bakery of her parents, this small agricultural city in central California welcomes hundreds of customers every day who enjoy the bakery’s authentic bolillos and tortillas, staples in most Latino homes. This peaceful city of 15,000 people happens to be 95% Hispanic, one of the highest percentages in the country.
“Most of our customers are Latinos. Since agricultural jobs were considered essential, most people are continuing to work through the pandemic,” Santoyo explains. “The demand for groceries and bread skyrocketed. We could not keep up with demand and would sell out early every day.”
Likewise, in Fontana, Calif., 150 miles to the south, Maria and Heliodoro Casillas, owners of Maria’s Panaderia, explain that the COVID-19 pandemic “has impacted many businesses in Fontana, but not our bakery. In fact, we had an increase of our sales by 20% ever since the pandemic started.”
At Carnitas Uruapan, Santoyo explains that COVID-19 has impacted her county in a large way.
“We are just under 3,000 confirmed cases with 65% of those being Latinos,” she explains. “We had to make immediate changes in order to best keep our employees and our customers safe. We are frequently sanitizing surfaces and provided our employees with masks. We installed plexiglass shields throughout the store. We also put social distancing markers on the floor to guide our customers. We also limit the amounts of customers in the store at one time.”
This family business hired more employees in order to keep up with the demand. They rewarded the efforts of employees with an “appreciation bonus” for all that they do and continue to do in these unprecedented times. In addition, the business stays up to date ob the guidelines and recommendations made by public health officials.
“Lamont is a resilient community, and I’d like to think that our panadería is a positive contributor to that,” Santoyo explains. “I would hope to see the community continue to work together to overcome obstacles. We are looking into possibly expanding the panadería, so next year we look forward to growth and the possibility of serving our customers with more of the bread they love and possibly some new items as well.”
At Maria’s Panaderia, which operates two locations in Fontana, the bakery was forced to change the way they operate because of the pandemic. Following guidelines for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the bakery adapted to new rules by spacing all customers accordingly and protecting the employees with masks and gloves, as well as constant cleaning. But the crisis did not force change in their production.
“We have always worked hard to produce bread of high quality using the best ingredients and with the current health crisis there’s no reason to do anything different,” Maria Casillas explains. “I thank God that our customers like our products and that we didn’t lose any of our business. What I see is that once we get out of this situation (COVID-19), we will do even better.”