Bread is the embodiment of a long and complex history in Mexico. Its most important ingredient, wheat, was introduced during the sixteenth century by Spanish conquistadors to a native population who found it bland compared to their sacred corn. A century later, wheat had found popularity in crispy baguettes and pan dulce (sweet pastries), and by the nineteenth century, Mexico City was inundated with French bakeries. Today, Mexico’s baking traditions are among the most inventive in the world, with thousands of variations of sweet and savory breads in whimsical names and shapes.
Enter David Cáceres, head baker of the celebrated bakery La Panadería in San Antonio, Texas. “I love the connection to my past,” begins a conversation on his favorite topic: bread. David co-owns La Panadería with his brother, José.
Born and raised in Mexico City, David and José acquired the tools of their trade from their mother, Josefina, a skilled baker and savvy businesswoman. The brothers recall selling their mother’s bread at the now defunct Tlaletlalpan market in the 1980s. José would shout toward shoppers at the crowded market, “De cinco y de diez! De cinco y de diez!” (“From five cents to ten cents! From five cents to ten cents!”).
From those humble beginnings, Doña Josefina achieved great commercial success. By the 1990s, she was the main bread supplier for Vips, a popular chain of casual restaurants in Mexico City. After Josefina succumbed to cancer in 1999, the brothers—José a recent college graduate and David in university—decided to take the reigns and delve into the bread culture they were born into.
“Bread is an art. It is part of our history, our personal story. Bread is embodied in us,” says David, who enrolled in Mexico’s Cordon Bleu Institute to hone his baking skills. The brothers spent the next decade continuing their relationship with Vips and became the main bread supplier for all of Mexico City’s Walmart stores. When Starbucks entered the country, David and José were front and center, becoming the popular coffee chain’s nationwide bread and pastry suppliers. Although the business partnerships proved lucrative, something was amiss. “We sold millions of products, millions of people ate our products, but nobody knew we made them,” says David. “We wanted to change that.”
The itch to shed anonymity and create their own brand took flight in the early 2010s, but rather than make a stamp in their hometown, the brothers decided to move north of the border to give the American Dream a shot. After researching cities with large Hispanic populations, David and José settled on San Antonio. José was the first to move to the South Texas city to get an understanding of American business models, while David enrolled in the San Francisco Baking Institute to further sharpen his techniques. In San Francisco, David learned that in America, “all major bakeries are born at farmer’s markets.”
Upon graduation, David joined his brother in San Antonio, and in 2013 they rented a commercial kitchen and began selling goods “baked with a lot of love and with the best possible ingredients” at the Quarry Farmers Market. They sold out of every product from day one, and the following year opened their first brick-and-mortar shop.
Toying with ideas to name their bakery, they landed on La Panadería, Spanish for “The Bakery,” which for decades has been their answer to anyone who has asked, “Where are you?” (in the bakery) or “Where did you go?” (to the bakery). The name of their business had been staring at them their entire lives. La Panadería was an immediate success, but eventually its small space in a residential area left them wanting for more.
David remembers telling his brother that in order to really become adopted by a city, “you have to go straight to its heart.” With that sentiment in mind, in 2017 the brothers opened the second La Panadería in downtown San Antonio, a stone’s throw from the Alamo: the soul of the city.
Designed by architecture firm Clayton & Little, the tone of the downtown brick-and-mortar La Panadería—also a restaurant and coffee bar—is more hip contemporary Mexico City than old school panadería. Although the space is a whopping six thousand square feet, the traditional platters and tongs used to pick breads add a warm, hometown atmosphere.
Tradition and nostalgia are also evident in the bread-baking stone oven that is the heart of the open kitchen. “Bakers work nearly twenty-four hours to ensure the product is ready when the doors open for business,” says David. Because the Cáceres brothers and their mother worked anonymously for decades, it was important to give La Panadería’s bakers the visibility they deserve. “La Panadería is a place of union and family,” David continues.
Their most successful offering is a tequila almond croissant, which uses tequila rather than the commonly used rum. According to David, “this is our way of blending cultures.” This playful take on tradition is at the very root of Mexican pan dulce.
By following the human desire to be seen, known and heard, David and José Cáceres have brought a taste of Mexico City bread culture to the Lone Star State. They have been embraced with open arms by the American community, and emboldened their mother’s legacy one cup of flour at a time.