Cuban pastries are a big hit in Miami, but will they get the same positive reaction throughout the rest of the country? That’s what CAO Bakery & Café is hoping to find out in the coming years. The South Florida chain of bakeries, which offers a broad Cuban-American-inspired menu, including breakfast, sandwiches and snacks options, is looking to expand through franchise opportunities.

CAO Bakery Holdings LLC currently operates 12 CAO Bakery & Café locations in South Florida. The company hopes to expand in other areas in Florida with Cuban-American populations such as Tampa, West Palm and Lake Worth, and college towns like Gainesville and Tallahassee. Additionally, CAO says it is pursuing expansion outside of Florida in areas with large Cuban populations, including New Jersey, Los Angeles, Louisville, Texas, North Carolina and Tennessee. Plans call for 10 new locations in 2021 and 35 additional locations by 2024, the company says.

CAO Bakery is led by Antonio Cao and Carlos De Varona, who previously owned and operated six Vicky Bakery locations from 2008 to 2018, before branching off to launch CAO Bakery & Café.

Cao is head of product production, quality control and operations. He is a third-generation baker and pastry chef with more than 20 years of experience. De Varona oversees construction, purchasing, human resources and accounting. Yvette Cao, head of marketing and advertising at CAO, leads all promotional and branding campaigns, grand openings and social media strategy.

With more than 50 years of combined industry experience, CAO has crafted a streamlined system of operational guidelines using the latest technology and software to manage inventory, track customers and provide real-time data and financial patterns. With over 250 employees and a stringent manager training program, CAO ensures that every individual who leads a location is not only efficient but possesses the skills required to provide superior customer service that has come to be synonymous with the brand.

The new CAO Bakery & Cafe locations will address customers’ demand for affordable, satisfying, varied and comforting food for all three daily meals and everything in between, as well as for party platters and baked goods to serve at events. The primary product availability is prepared in CAO’s commissary in a single location by skilled personnel and professional pastry chefs.

“Miami is the stomping ground for Cuban bakeries,” says Antonio Cao. “Over the last decade, we have evolved and modernized the neighborhood bakery model into a mainstream, fast-casual concept. As a brand, we would love to see our cafécitos and pastelitos introduced in new cities.”

Cao has stated that he wants the bakery to be the “Latin Starbucks”. The business is young and hungry, an ideal combination for growth.

“As Cuban food and coffee have become part of everyday life in South Florida, we believe the desire for a Hispanic concept lies in areas outside of our own,” - Carlos De Varona, co-owner, CAO Bakery & Café

During the pandemic, all CAO locations remained open and served the community. While in-store foot traffic decreased due to the nationwide shutdown, the company says its bakeries saw an increase in online orders, curbside and third-party deliveries.

CAO gained positive press for its various community efforts, which have been covered in the Miami Herald, NBC, CBS, Sun Sentinel, Miami News Times and Thrillist, among others. It also won a Time Out Miami’s 2020 Time In Awards. The bakeries also continue to offer 25% off to first responders and have served over 6,000 meals to date through food bank distributions. This has helped to grow the customer base near its existing locations, with more on the horizon.

“As Cuban food and coffee have become part of everyday life in South Florida, we believe the desire for a Hispanic concept lies in areas outside of our own,” says Carlos De Varona. “Franchising gives us the opportunity to grow alongside our partners and scale our concept and products to the market quickly.”

As the retail bakery market in the Miami Metro area grew a robust 13% between 2017 to 2018, nationwide, the bakery-café industry as a whole is projected to grow at a 2.3% annual rate over the next three years. CAO plans to capitalize on the industry’s resilience – which has prospered despite the economic downturn – with the addition of franchise locations in high-traffic retail centers where it will have optimal synergy with co-tenants and the surrounding residential and commercial base.

CAO Bakery & Café is best known for its 30+ pastries and desserts, from chocolate to caramel, fruity or glazed; but its crown jewel is the pastelito. Buttery, flakey, sweet or savory, CAO’s pastelitos evoke the same feelings as the cafes themselves – warm, sweet and authentic.

Pastellitos are a mainstay of Cuban pastry cuisine and come in a variety of options from sweet to savory. Much like the Cuban sandwich is synonymous with Miami cuisine, pastellitos are the treat you can enjoy for breakfast, dessert or a mid-day pick-me-up.

Other standouts are the bakery’s empanadas available with a variety of meaty fillings, Cuban-American and Cuban Original sandwiches and the Rope Vieja Papa Rellena (shredded beef filled potato fritters).

These mouthwatering products, along with an inviting atmosphere, have CAO looking to reach new heights this decade.