The history of La Mejor bakery is an example of what can be accomplished when small businesses work together to support each other. Carmen Elias, owner of La Mejor, has witnessed this unity amongst Calle 24’s bakeries since the early 70s.
Back then, her father worked at Dominguez, La Reyna, La Victoria, and other historic panaderías along the Calle 24 corridor, while Elías worked babysitting the children of the families in those panaderías.
Originally from Mexico City, Elias’ family moved to San Francisco in 1968 when the company where her father worked transferred him to the U.S. Eventually his contract ran out, and rather than moving his family again to follow the company, he settled in the Mission and started working in the local panaderías, something he did as a young man back in Mexico.
So it only seemed natural that when Elías herself earned an early retirement in 1993, she would follow in her father’s footsteps and —under the advice of one of her father’s friends— opened her own bakery, renting the small storefront where the business remains today.
“The truth is … I don’t know anything about bread,” Elias admits with a laugh. But she knows about community, so she called on her father’s old panadería co-workers from the 70s and 80s to be her first employees and handle the baking.
To this day, most of her staff also take shifts in several of the panaderías nearby. This crosspollination amongst the Mission’s bakeries creates a style of pan dulce that is unique to the area.
And just as her father’s legacy made her success possible, Elías now uplifts the next generation of panaderos from her own kitchen.
Twenty years ago, 17 year-old Rigoberto Calzada had just arrived from Mexico when he asked Elías for a job at La Mejor. The teenager assured her he learned everything about bread from helping at his uncle’s panadería since he was eight. Elías gave him a chance, and Calzada worked there for two decades. He left last year to open his very own bakery in San Bruno. Elías misses Calzada, who was her only full-time employee. But she considers him a son and is elated by his new venture.
This spirit of cooperation by Mission panaderías has a ripple effect that reaches back decades, and is still being felt today in the prosperity of panaderías throughout the Bay Area.