The rise and fall of one of SF’s first Latino businesses

La Victoria Bakery has been selling Mexican pastries on 24th Street since 1951 – all but 15 of its 67 years from the corner of 24th and Alabama, where its bright green, yellow and red sign jutting out from the building’s corner has become a landmark of the commercial corridor.

Now, more than a half-century later, the building has become the stage for a family drama. Its characters are the archetypes of a family business gone wrong: an aging and ill founder, his son and heir apparent, and a stepmother and stepsister.

The likely ending has already been announced: the two-story building, with three units on top and three commercial spaces on the ground floor, including La Victoria – is on the market for $3.4 million. What’s still unclear, however, is who will buy the building and whether La Victoria will remain.  

“It’s unfortunate – it’s very saddening. I put in 30 years of blood, sweat and tears, and it’s come to a financial matter,” said Jaime Maldonado, the heir apparent who has been running the bakery for decades and is also part of the family trust that owns the building.  

Sad and brutal. His stepmother, Susana Maldonado, controls the trust, and she wants La Victoria out. To that end, she has filed to evict her stepson. His stepsister, Jacqueline Roualdes, he said, agrees with her mother. It’s unclear how his father, 96-year-old Gabriel, feels.  

“The Maldonado family is saddened by Jaime’s unfair portrayal of them and this situation,” a lawyer for Susana Maldonado wrote in an email responding to requests for an interview with Susana Maldonado and her daughter. “This family helped create and nurture the culture of the Mission for many years.”

For years, Gabriel Maldonado, who came over to the United States as part of the bracero program, worked side by side with his son, Jaime, to teach his son the business that he started with Jaime’s mother, Maria, who died in 2005.   

“It was very fatherly – it wasn’t necessarily about teaching me to run a business,” said Jaime, who took over the day-to-day operation of the business in 1992. “It was all about being the best father he could.”    

Years before his mother died, his parents had split up, and sometime in the 1990s, Jaime’s father married Susana. Susana’s daughter, Jacqueline, is only three years older than Jaime.

Early on, Jaime, Susana and Jacqueline had a good relationship. But in recent years, as the father became increasingly ill and problems with the building began to emerge, relationships began to fray.

Jaime Maldonado sees the best salvation as a sale to the Mission Economic Development Agency, a nonprofit housing developer, which Maldonado sees as caring about the neighborhood.

Christopher Gil, MEDA’s spokesperson, said the agency has made a “fair” offer, but he would not say if it was above or below the $3.4 million listing price.

“If our offer is accepted, we would not be building up, despite the realtor’s marketing that touts this property as ‘an ideal mixed-use rental or condominium redevelopment’ opportunity,” Gil said in an email.

He noted that a purchase by the agency would ensure La Victoria and the other commercial tenants could remain in the building.

However, it’s unclear if Susana Maldonado, who has the controlling interest, is willing to sell to MEDA.

Jamie Maldonado in 2010.

La Victoria

In his 2011 anthology, Ten Years That Shook the City: San Francisco 1968-78, Alejandro Murguia writes:  

“… a block east was La Victoria Panadería. Next to the panadería, on the side of it, was a restaurant, a sort of extension of La Victoria. … At lunchtime everyone who was anyone in the barrio gathered around the small plastic-covered tables that practically abutted each other. Politicos and would-be power brokers. Poverty pimps and locals.”

On a recent Thursday morning, Armando Escobar, 55, sat in the back of the dimly lit bakery, practicing guitar. He was the only customer there.

He has been coming to La Victoria for the past two years, he said, and he sometimes does odd jobs in exchange for hanging out for hours with his music. He knew the building was being sold, and feared the bakery would have to close.

“It used to be a place for Latinos,” he said. “I’m sad to see a local bakery and restaurant going away.”

When La Victoria opened in 1951, 24th Street was populated by mostly Irish and Italian businesses. La Victoria is said to be among the first Latino businesses on the corridor – if not the very first. In a 2015 interview with KQED, Jaime Maldonado referred to his father as the “original gentrifier.”

“I’ve always said that tongue-in-cheek, meaning that there was space, people didn’t want to be here. All those damn Mexicans were moving in, so who wants to be around them?” Maldonado told KQED.

For decades, the bakery remained a popular destination for Latinos on Sundays.

“It was customary to go to church, go the bakery and have coffee, and walk around before going home,” said Eric Arguello of Calle 24, a group that has fought to preserve Latino culture on the corridor.

“I was just like everyone else,” he added. “I’d go to church at St. Peters and pick something up from one of the panaderias.”   

But in recent years, fewer Latinos have been around to buy the baked goods, and in some, the second generation has had less interest in making them. The popular and nearby Dominguez Bakery closed in 2014, although the family still owns that building.

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The young Maldonado, however, was quick to change with the times, pivoting from one idea to the next as he tried to find the right fit in a rapidly changing neighborhood. He embarked on a renovation project in the early 1990s that took him 15 years to complete and, by that time, other hip cafes had appeared.

At one point in 2008, he told Mission Local that he was broke from the renovation. Nevertheless,  his experiments continued.

He kept the traditional pastries, but brought in new bakers and also sold dulce de leche croissants and macaroons. He welcomed pop-ups such as bagel workshops and street cart operators. By 2010, he was feeling optimistic.

He rented out commercial kitchen space to small startups, and embraced attempts at building a nighttime clientele. “I was always mixing it up, because you needed to be a brand to stay relevant,” he said. “As a simple bakery, it wasn’t relevant anymore.”

His latest plans were to turn the space into a bistro with a “luxury atmosphere with inexpensive food.” It would be, he said, be “a nice well-built place with good food.”  

To execute his vision, he took out a $150,000 loan to remodel the building, received approval from the city, and was ready to use a previously owned liquor license. “Then all this shit happened,” he said. “It took the wind out of my sails.”

Decline

“This shit,” as Jamie Maldonado put it, began in the winter of 2015 with a fire that broke out in one of the three upper apartments, displacing two young people.

“With no rental income (from that unit), La Victoria had to make up the difference, which was fine for a year, but there’s only so much you can put on a small business,” he said, adding that the insurance company has never paid them for the lost rental income.  

The fire and other maintenance issues, Maldonado said, prompted his stepmother to put the building up for sale. She did not want to deal with the headache of battling the insurance company for lost rent and reinvesting in the building to bring it up to speed, he said.

Jaime preferred to keep it, but his stepmother had the final say.

The bad news failed to end. In October, William Moran and Patricia Calvert, tenants of a rent-controlled unit above La Victoria, which was not destroyed by the fire, sued the Maldonado Family Trust in October for a wrongful eviction.

The lawsuit, which has yet to be resolved, raises issues of cockroach infestations, poor maintenance and harassment. Jaime Maldonado put the blame on his stepmother.

“She was notified of all the issues over again, and never moved on any of the issues, and I told her we would have eventual problems – and we did.”

Just days after the tenants filed their lawsuit against all of them, Susana Maldonado filed to evict her stepson’s La Victoria from the building.

A judge tossed the eviction, according to Jaime. But a month later, his stepmother sued La Victoria and her stepson for possession of the property – and $333.33 per day in rent. Already those fines have added up to more than $30,000, but the civil case has yet to go to trial.

Nowadays, Jaime Maldonado’s last hope is a purchase by MEDA, but it’s entirely possible that his stepmother will go with another buyer. She declined to comment for this article, and through her lawyer referred to better days.

Maldonado and her daughter, the lawyer wrote, “care very deeply for the Mission community, and are very proud of Gabriel Maldonado’s accomplishments and contributions to the Mission neighborhood.”

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In 2010 Jamie Maldonado participated in an earlier series, “The Best Thing I Ever Ate in the Mission”

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3 Comments

  1. Ricardo Ruiz

    Time for Calle 24 to step up the plate. Can’t they require developer’s to buy pastries from la victoria bakery? Developers should be required to pass them out a day before and a day after the community outreach meetings. Would help La Victoria’s bakery sales and its the right thing to do.

    • Stevie

      Can Calle 24 require developers buy from a bakery!?? Half of the Calle 24 board own businesses on this street! Apart from being completely illegal, it would be a huge conflict of interest. What makes you think Calle 24 has this type of power? They do not. They’re a non profit of locals who are only good at slowing down much needed housing developments.

      • Grant C

        Wow … don’t you get the irony of Ricardo’s statement? Its totally tongue in cheek. And frankly Calle24 is a basically a local form of familia (read mafia) and doing nothing more than holding the neighborhood hostage against any kind of meaningful reasonable balanced plan to improve the Mission on all fronts. And yes I live here and yes I own a home so I get a say in where the f*$k my taxes are going.

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