When La Victoria—the iconic Mission District panaderia which had operated at 24th and Alabama streets for 67 years—prepared to shut its doors for the last time on Oct. 9, 2018, Laura Hernandez couldn’t help but feel sad.
“We spent so many years there,” said Hernandez, who had worked at the panaderia for 12 years and had handled the the day-to-day operations with her business partner, Daniel Gabriner, since January 2018.
“That’s where I met my husband when I was just a barista,” Hernandez remembers.
But in recent years, their situation tenants had become unstable and La Victoria’s future had become uncertain.
“We knew that we would be kicked out [from the 24th and Alabama street location] about a year in advance,” Hernandez said. “But I already had a project in mind.”
That project involved continuing to support her family—her husband Manuel and her two daughters, ages 15 and four—and reopening the panaderia. Somehow. And after a few months in hiatus, now Hernandez’s vision of reopening the panaderia is nearly complete. Though she hasn’t set an official date, Hernandez plans to open her new venture, La Victoria SF, at a newly secured location at 3249 24th Street (at the corner of 24th and Capp streets, adjacent to the Calle 24 office) and she is planning to bring back the same employees who worked with her at the Alabama Street location. “We’re the same Victoria,” Hernandez said. “We’re all here. No one left. We have the same cashiers, the same bakers. Even though they have less hours, they’re still here with me.”
But while Hernandez and her husband—who can be found doing various repairs to the new location—and her two daughters ready the storefront for business, they continue to sell and produce pan dulce. In truth, even after the closing of La Victoria’s 24th and Alabama location, the family operation never stopped.
“Once we left the Alabama location for good, we already had a space to continue with the bakery,” said Hernandez, referring to her business partner Gabriner’s Sour Flour bakery, located in the Bayview. “But we didn’t really reveal what we were thinking, because we truly didn’t know if it was going to work out.”
The plan of reopening started to come together when one of Hernandez’s cashiers told her of a vacant storefront at the corner of 24th and Capp streets. She was hesitant because of what it would cost to transform the former corner store into a panaderia, but she and Gabriner decided to take a chance. They called the broker who said the rent would be $4,800 a month. But after they contacted the owner directly, explaining who they were, they were able to sign the lease for $3,000 a month.
“This has united our family even more,” said Hernandez. “As a mother, I feel proud that I’ve set a good example for my daughters: that you can accomplish anything you work hard for.”
With the help of just 10 employees (herself included) she bakes 3,000-4,000 pan dulce’s daily. Six days a week, Hernandez rises at 4 a.m. An hour later, she loads her van with bread—which is baked at Sour Flour bakery—and begins making her rounds to the 15 different vendors they sell to.
“I think that was my motivation,” Hernandez said. “We distributed to those stores for so many years, to lose them… I had to do something.”
On certain days, she is joined by her four-year-old daughter, who helps divide the bread for distribution before she goes to school. Hernandez finishes the route around noon. Her last stop is at 24th and Mission, where she has a street vending operation right beside the BART station. They sell there from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
“That’s how we’re surviving, paying our rent, while we get stabilized at this location,” she said.
After the day is done, she returns to the Sour Flour Bakery to clean and ready the equipment for the next day’s load. By 9 p.m. Hernandez is home.
But selling on the street is something Hernandez never intended to do. One day after the Alabama location had closed, Hernandez had baked an excess of bread.
“It was crazy how it worked out,” she said. “One day we baked too much bread. I never intended to sell on the street. I thought, what am i going to do with all this bread. I have to do something.”
She thought of selling outside of the previous location on Alabama street, but decided against it after she saw the new building owner. She then made her way to 24th and Mission. The 500 baked goods she had brought with her were sold out within two hours.
Her daughters have taken an interest in too. Hernandez’s four year old has started to bake cookies and make the toppings for the conchas, and her older daughter has expressed interest in learning and teaching classes on making conchas.
“I’m a mom [and] a business owner. Sometimes I can’t believe it,” Hernandez said. “I never imagined I’d do so much … Many people, such as my coworkers, tell me, ‘You’re a hardworking woman, a fighter, I admire you.’ And I tell them that I admire them.”
Story by: George Barahona