Just a couple of years ago when wheat prices had escalated, and competition on 24th street had increased, the son of the founding father of La Victoria Bakery and Kitchen, one of the Mission District’s oldest businesses, talked about closing down.
Today, thanks to an if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them-business move, that seems unlikely. To survive, Jaime Maldonado started renting out his kitchen and holding community events including the hipster street cart scene that joins his Saturday afternoon Sweet Corazón de la Mission (Sweet Heart of the Mission).
Food cart vendors gather at La Victoria offering dishes like Argentinean empanadas, Oaxacan mole, sushi, gumbo, vegan dishes, African American style barbecue, Jewish and Jamaican food, and sometimes innovative creations like duck confit chilaquiles with a quail egg.
“I always said I want to work somewhere where I feel good, proud and comfortable, and that’s what I’m trying to do,” said Maldonado adding that La Victoria wants to keep its Latin feeling but also appeal to the newcomers.
While the Mission District is still nearly 50 percent Latino an increasing number of young professionals – white, Latino and South Asian – have moved in and embraced the food culture of local, experimental and healthy.
“Last week we had a really interesting crowd, pretty diverse, a lot of families, a lot of couples,” said composer and musician Joan Cerqueiro who plays at La Victoria.
Anita Shih, who with her boyfriend Justin Williams started the Ninja Pie Cart to make some extra money was there. Once a week Shih and Williams cook together and sell small versions of chicken and spinach mushroom potpies at $5 and $4. “We look for spots where people hang around like parks,” she said.
By word of mouth from another cart vendor they heard of Sweet Corazón de la Mission and joined in. “It has been fun, they have really good musicians,” said Williams also mentioning, “We haven’t lost any money,” referring to the unpredictable customers’ attendance.
Sweet Corazon attracts new as well as old residents.
Mission neighborhood residents Robin and Jon Worona live only few blocks away from La Victoria. After walking by several times they started taking baked goods and tamales home. Last Saturday night they ate inside and tried the vegetarian sopes and spinach empanadas.
Margaret Ysselstein said that when she lived in the Mission neighborhood during the 70s she bought pan dulce there.
At that time, La Victoria first opened in 1951 by Maldonado’s father Gabriel, had already been serving the Latino community for 21 years.
Maldonado, who grew up working in the bakery, worked with his father and took over the business in 1992. Not much had been done to the bakery in years and the young Maldonado decided to renovate. The project took 15 years and when he was finished, there was new competition on the block.
When Mission Loc@l talked to him last time in October 2008, he wondered if he could survive. “I’m broke,” he said back then. Nowadays, however, he feels differently.
If he were to sell, “People would say, ‘How could you that [to the community]?,’” he said. But “if instead of La Victoria, Starbucks opens tomorrow the same people would be buying a $5 cup of coffee,” he added.
Besides Saturday’ events the bakery offers Soul Cocina Suppers on Thursdays. Every week a different chef creates a la carte menu that offers dishes from $7 to $14.
“If you want these places to exist you have to make a conscious effort to go there,” said Maldonado. Small businesses, he said, need the community support to stay afloat.
La Victoria Bakery is open everyday of the week.
Address: 2937 24th Street
Hours: M-F 6am-9pm and S-S 7am-9pm