Between Lorenza Garza’s tortilleria in San Benito and today’s De Alba Bakery de la Familia, run by her granddaughter Ana de Alba, is a span of 56 years and a thriving family business that has grown to four locations and online sales.
“We are trying to keep Mexican traditions (of pan dulce) alive. These days, nobody has the time to make the breads grandmother used to make,” said Leo Lara, De Alba’s operating manager. “We don’t take short cuts. We still use the old methods, which are all from scratch. When people come into our bakeries, they have memories of their childhood. They see the same pastries they saw as kids. It’s very nostalgic and makes them happy, especially when they bring in their own children.”
Who wouldn’t be happy in an upscale bakery with a European/Mexican ambiance, surrounded by well-lit, enticing and fragrant displays of conchas, molletes, empanadas and more types of pan dulce than you can layer into a bakery box? Tamales, birthday cakes and rolls add to the visual and olfactory appeal of De Alba bakeries which retain the appeal of a neighborhood bakery.
Ana De Alba grew up working with her parents Dora and Uriel in their San Benito tortilleria and the bakery they opened in McAllen in 1991. But honoring the past doesn’t rule out exploring the future. Now the company’s CFO, de Alba , with her parents’ blessing, has launched a total makeover of the De Alba stores, starting with the Edinburg location.
“Ana wanted a new store concept, which included changing the logo and the branding,” said Lara. “It began with taking the heart of what her parents did: the hard work, the excellence and the love poured over every detail.” While the roots remain, the new concept adds high-end, artisanal Mexican pastries to the current offerings. Given the De Alba family emphasis on family, a children’s area will be near the espresso bar which has comfortable seating and WiFi for adults.
“We want our customers to feel like family when they walk in our doors,” Lara said. “Ana doesn’t do things half-heartedly, and she has the most exacting taste. We’ll have made-to- order tortas, gourmet salads, aguas frescas and paletas. Authentic Mexican dishes are being added to our menu because great food, along with baking, work together as a passion for the De Alba family. She and Dora spend all their creative time in the home kitchen perfecting recipes.”
Creativity is not limited to the owners. Each of the four head bakers is being challenged to make two new products per month. The De Albas determine which ones will be offered to the public. Lara noted, “Most of our bakers love that challenge.”
Lara, who has 25 years of manufacturing experience, has streamlined De Alba’s operating systems to be more cost-effective. “We always want the best ingredients,” but at the lowest price possible. He is monitoring the renovations’ impact on work flow and sales. Lara projects that each makeover will take three months, so about a year from now, the stores in Mission Pharr, McAllen and Edinburg will have been upgraded and rebranded.
The potential for growth is great, Lara said. “We have a lot of things in the works. We’re working on possible gluten-free and sugar free items.” Training of cashiers is being centralized with a focus on customer service, and baristas are being hired to make unique flavored coffees with a Mexican twist, starting at the Edinburg location.
Last year, De Alba won the trifecta in a regional consumers’ choice poll: best bakery, best tamales and best cakes. Their reputation has attracted traffic to their website, where customers from New York to Las Vegas order pastries as well as some of the 21 varieties of tamales (including Mexican chocolate ones rich with raisins and cinnamon.)
The De Alba Bakery has an impact on its community beyond beautiful wedding cakes and award-wining tamales. The De Alba family founded United 4 Paws, which unites companies and individuals in advocacy for pets. By matching donations, up to $1,000 per month, the organization provides spay and neuter resources and placement for animals.
That outreach is possible because of the expertise of De Alba’s bakers and staff at making authentic foods. “We want to continue to create memories,” said Lara.
For more information, see dealbabakery.com.