Concepción Flores saw bread in the making since she was a child.
Her father, Dimas Camarillo, was a baker in Tehuacán, Mexico. And like most bakers in Mexico, he would start his workday so early in the morning, some might consider the start of his day as late night. The goal: Have fresh, warm bread ready for customers at 6 a.m.
Though her two-location business, Panadería Flores, is not in Mexico, but on Salt Lake City’s west side and doesn’t offer warm bread for early risers, Flores and her team work hard to offer an authentic experience that resembles the real deal found on Mexican streets. The displays around the Rose Park shop show 50 or so types of breads, pastries and cakes.
The aroma of vanilla, sugar and the toasted crust of their bolillos — a soft savory Mexican bread — impregnate the space. In a typical after-work rush, every word is in Spanish and the door doesn’t stop opening and closing as more regulars get paper bags filled with fresh baked goods.
“A lot of people in Mexico eat warm bread in the morning, and warm and fresh in the afternoon,” she said. “They won’t eat the morning bread in the afternoon.”
Besides bolillos, conchas — a cookie-topped sweet bread in the shape of a shell — are hot sellers at the bakery.
Some Utahns, mostly of Hispanic heritage, emulate that tradition and visit Panadería Flores daily. At home, they dip bread in hot chocolate or coffee, or fill them with beans, meats or vegetables.
Flores rarely takes a day off and spends most of her time, from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., baking and serving bread.
Baking was already an essential part of her life when she met her husband, Santiago, who also is a son of Mexican bakers. When the couple moved to Utah, opening a bakery was a natural choice.
“We have it in our roots,” she said.
“Us Mexicans can’t live without bread and coffee,” Silvina Martínez, a customer, said. “I have bolillos in the morning or save them to make tortas — a Mexican sandwich.”
A Mexico City native, Martínez discovered the bakery more than 10 years ago, and she makes sure to visit at least once a week.
“The bread is very good and soft and made daily,” she said. “It does taste like the one in Mexico.”
A business like this bakery is not only a meeting point for immigrants looking for a taste of home, but it also allows their children to connect with their culture.
Angelica Malmaceda, a second-generation American born in Utah, patiently stayed in line at the bakery to get some bolillos.
“All my family likes it,” she said. “We eat them all the time, with beans or chorizo.”
Mexico’s love for bread dates back to the mid-1500s, when a viceroy dipped bread into hot chocolate in front of a crowd of people, reports the food website Eater. Then, in the 17th century, French immigrants opened bakeries, popularizing “French bread” across the country. That bread, which is similar to a short baguette, reached tortilla popularity levels.
Some areas in Mexico and other Latin American countries know the bolillo as French bread, Spanish bread or bread of water.
The Rose Park bakery makes around 600 bolillos daily. This is the kind of piece that attracts most clients of various countries, including Venezuela, Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala, Flores said.
“We have customers who come exclusively for the bolillo,” she said. “They often come from faraway places like Idaho, Wyoming or Tooele.”
Since opening their first bakery at 904 S. 900 West in 2003, the Floreses have been developing their own way to bake Mexican bread and to adapt to the Utah market. In 2005, they expanded to a larger, second location at 1625 W. 700 North in Rose Park.
Despite Mexican traditions, they allow their bread to cool down before selling it.
“My family and I like eating the bread when it’s already cooled,” she said. “The real flavors are accentuated then.”
Just as any business that is visited by diverse communities looking for authenticity, they sometimes face some criticism. But Flores doesn’t expect to make any substantial changes in her recipe yet.
“A few people say we should make bread as people make it in their countries or in their towns,” she said, “but then, it would no longer be our style.”
Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.