Jaime Maldonado understands that the Mission is changing. But unlike some residents who mourn for the past and fight the future, he's willing to change with it. His pioneering, open-minded, forge-ahead spirit has earned Maldonado this year's Latino Heritage Month Business Award, to be awarded Tuesday.
La Victoria Bakery, Maldonado's business and a Mission staple for more than half a century, is an innovative company that's not afraid to evolve to stay successful. More than just another panaderia, La Victoria is also a community kitchen and a classroom, and will soon be a full-service restaurant (within the next six months, according to Maldonado).
"There's so much need for community kitchen space, so we became a commissary kitchen, renting the back of the bakery to entrepeneurs trying to make ends meet," Maldonado says, who works with small local companies like El Porteno, Wholesome Bakery, and Soul Cocina. "I rent to people under market so they can have a place to call home."
Maldonado believes fervently in supporting the local community no matter what, even if it means changing traditions and changing minds. "People come into the Mission expecting cheap food," he says, "and you get what you pay for -- not only that, but you're helping displace workers, in a sense. If you just buy these cheap baked goods shipped in from outside of San Francisco, great, you're filling your belly, but that's displacing a Latin worker in the city where you live. You've got to pay that extra dollar and put it back into your community."
Last year, Maldonado hired a new pastry chef, Mission-born-and-raised baker Luis Villavelazquez. The idea was to revamp the pastry program, to keep the Latin feel and flavor while also updating pastries to appeal to the Mission's changing demographic. "As a consumer you might walk by the window and say, 'What the hell is all that crap?' and keep on going until you see something you like," says Maldonado with a laugh. "Now we have stuff in the window that appeals to your sensibilities. A beignet, a donut. They'll be filled with Latin-inspired stuff like prickly pear or tamarind, but the product itself looks like it's in your wheelhouse. So that's the next step, and I think we've just started on that. We're the only ones in the neighborhood even trying anything like that, and trying to stay true to the Latin heritage."
Maldonado has seen many traditional Latin markets in his neighborhood go under in the past few years, but seems determined that La Victoria will be able to weather the economic storm by adapting and evolving. With any luck, the rest of the Mission will take notice and follow suit. "The remaining Latino markets are cornerstones of the neighborhood, and if they disappear, what's the Mission really going to be?"