‘You make something bigger when you blend the cultures’; Brothers from Mexico City have big plans for their La Panadería chain

Photo of Richard Webner

David and José Cáceres, the brothers who own the La Panadería chain of bakeries, travel all over the world to try varieties of bread and pastries — to New York, Los Angeles, Australia, Brazil and European cities such as Milan, Rome and Florence.

At the three bakeries they operate in San Antonio — including the one near The Rim, which they opened earlier this year — they strive to blend the culinary traditions of their native Mexico with those they have sampled during their travels. One of their signature pastries, the tequila almond croissant, combines the French staple of the croissant with a creamy tequila filling reminiscent of Mexico.

“You make something bigger when you blend the cultures,” David Cáceres said. “That’s what we’re trying to do with everything we do here: to create something new that’s for everybody.”

Bread-baking is a personal matter for the brothers, who note that it helped keep their family together after their father left their mother while they were growing up in the Tlalnepantla neighborhood north of Mexico City. Their mother, Doña Josefina, was an entrepreneur who grew her baking business into a sizable bread manufacturer which supplied a Mexican supermarket chain. She also dabbled in developing apartment buildings.

The brothers took over the business after her death in 1999. Over time, they grew tired of industrial bread-making and yearned to open a chain of restaurants in which they could provide a memorable experience for customers.

After immigrating to the U.S., they began selling bread and pastries at the Quarry Farmers & Ranchers Market in 2013. They opened the first location of La Panadería on upper Broadway the next year. In 2017, they joined the vanguard of the downtown retail renaissance when they opened a second location on Houston Street. David focuses on the restaurant’s baking operations, while José manages the front of the house.

The downtown bakery faced an existential crisis in 2020 with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We were about to reopen downtown in the middle of the pandemic, and we wondered a lot whether it was the right decision,” José Cáceres said. “We came to the conclusion that we had to do it. If we were the only ones, we had to do it, with even more passion and dedication, because that was the only way to get out of the pandemic.”

During the worst weeks of the pandemic, the brothers put together baskets of eggs, bread, black beans and sanitizing wipes, and sold them for $25, which was less than their cost, they said. They now hope to expand into Austin and Dallas, with a goal of eventually operating 25 locations.

The brothers recently sat for an interview to discuss their mother’s legacy, their decision to immigrate to the U.S., and their foray into e-commerce. The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: The way you make bread, did you learn that from your mother?

David: I wouldn’t say that. People ask me a lot about that — if your mother taught you to bake, if she gave you the black book with the recipes and everything. And I would say no, that’s not the case. She taught me something that is bigger than that. She taught me the passion.

I grew up in the bakery, and obviously the influence of the flavors and the textures, it’s in me. But no, she taught me something bigger. The passion to be a baker is the passion to make things work. You know, being a baker is not easy. It’s working nights, it’s in the mornings, it’s holidays, and that passion to do those things in the hardest moments.

That’s the same passion that my bakers have. How do you make someone come here at one in the morning every day? It will never be enough money to pay them — it’s more about the passion to create someone from scratch, to be part of something bigger than you.

Q: You actually have employees coming in at 1 a.m.?

David: Oh yeah. We have people who come in at noon, midnight, people who come in at 10 p.m., people who come in at 3, 4 a.m.

A lot of companies, what they do is in the afternoon they just mix and bake, and they save it for the next day in the morning. We created this process where it takes at least 48 hours. So it is a very slow process.

Have you tasted raw flour? Is it sweet? No, not at all, right? But it’s a sugar, it’s a complex sugar. So what happens is that we try to break down as much as possible of that complex sugar so it creates a flavor that is unique. The process and the freshness are important for us. If you really want to have fresh product in the morning, you have to do work at night.

Q: Where do you get that passion from?

David: For us, food is very important, and bread in particular. For my family, it was the glue, you know? We were a broken family, and it was the glue to the family.

Q: So your mother got sick and you took over the business?

David: Actually it was my brother. He was always the perfect brother, you know? My mom got sick, and he started working with my mom. When my mother passed away, he took control of the business. The day after she passed away, he came to me and told me, “David, there’s a business there. We can partner, but if you want to partner in the business, you have to come to work.”

I was a little bit more immature. I guess he was the one that was more responsible — really the stone in the family that kept us together. But with time I became a very good baker. I’m very passionate. I think that’s the way that we both create this together, combining these passions.

Q: How is it running a business together as brothers?

José: The common ground is the passion we both have. We share the same passion for food, for quality, things that we have learned and we saw from our mom. Those values keep us together with the same vision, right? David runs the production, runs the numbers. I run the front of the house.

David: I think the ballast is the common ground. Honestly, we think very differently, but that’s not a bad thing. When I was younger, I was a little bit more of a rebel, but I learned to be more patient, and just try to make my vision a little bit richer with his thinking.

Q: You had a successful business in Mexico. What made you want to move to the U.S.?

José: Being on the industrial side, you learn a lot, but do you remember the little hamster on the wheel? Running, running, running? That was us. The real value is facing the guest, facing the customer.

David: The industrial side is not an easy business. It’s complicated and it’s hard to make money. And sometimes, the more you sell, the more you lose money.

José: And there is another factor. I would say in 2010, these type of bakeries were having a really good time in some areas of the country here in the U.S., like for instance in California, La Brea (Bakery), Nancy Silverton; and Porto’s (Bakery and Café) in L.A. We went and we saw them.

David: I think also there is a division. You can see my mom everyplace here, that’s for sure. But we created this. Part of the dream was to create something of our own — our own legacy, our own part of the story.

Q: So something you got from your mother was being detail-oriented?

José: Yeah, she was extremely passionate about quality.

David: There’s always something better that can be done. The bar can be raised. When you reach a certain level and you have a continuous operation, 24/7, it’s not easy to move the bar. But still we keep moving it, and I think we’re never going to settle with that.

Q: Apart from the food, are there other concepts you brought over from Mexico with your restaurant?

David: We’re from Mexico City, which is different from other parts of Mexico. A lot of people here in Texas or California, when they think about Mexico they think about the border. We feel a little bit bad about it, because mostly they relate, “Mexican products, cheap products.” Mexico City is not like that. In Mexico City, you can find the nicest setup, the nicest restaurants. I guess that we want to bring a little bit of that experience here.

Q: As you continue to expand your business, will you bring on more executives?

David: Yes, that’s something that we have done, and we’re going to keep doing. At the beginning, it was my brother and myself. Now we have someone who helps us with human resources, someone who helps us with payment, someone who helps us with accounting. We are thinking of bringing more people for e-commerce.

Q: Tell me more about your e-commerce plans.

David: I went to Los Angeles three years ago, and I had this kind of epiphany that we need to be good at marketing and e-commerce. And we start researching, we start developing this project. We launched the project on January 2020. It was one year to get to that point, and it was very slow, and you had something maybe not that relevant. But guess what happened in March 2020? Pandemic hits. And then in one day, we had to switch the whole thing. So e-commerce saved us. If we hadn’t done that job before, probably we wouldn’t be here.

Q: Looking way forward, do you see this as becoming like Panera, where it’s in every city?

David: We want to make it as big as possible, but we have certain things that are important for us. We don’t care about being the biggest; we care about being the best bakery. We could go to New York, Miami, Las Vegas, whatever city you want, you name it. We will do that with all of our heart, as long as we can handle the quality.