Owner: Carmen Elias
Business: La Mejor Bakery
Address: 3329 24th St.
Product: Mexican and Latin American-style baked goods and beverages
What gave you your idea to start you business?
I am a native of Mexico City. When I was very young, my family came to the United States. I started working at a young age and retired from a well-known bank after 20 years. I was mentored by Don Jesus, who encouraged me to take over managing the bakery. Even though my father had been working for bakeries, such as La Victoria and Dominguez, the only experience I had at that time was on the other side of the counter, as a customer. I used my retirement money to buy the bakery.
What has your experience been opening a business in the Mission?
My family established our roots in the Mission many years ago. I have seen the Mission evolve — I embrace change and keep a positive attitude every day as I run the bakery. I have created a business network and purchase local products to support other small- business owners, who are now my friends. I get to know my customers well. They come here to get their favorite bread and coffee or a tamale, then sit chatting with other people as if they are in their home’s dining room.
How does your business/business idea relate to your life?
As La Mejor Bakery’s owner, I fulfill my many responsibilities on a daily basis. I supervise operations, tend to customers and manage the books. I live very close to the bakery, so I am easy to reach if there is an urgent need. My brothers also work at the bakery. My employees have been working here for years — they are very loyal and are considered family. I even encourage my part-time employees to take jobs in similar businesses close to my bakery. I know the Mission very well and am a customer of other small businesses in the area.
Why should potential customers invest in small businesses?
La Mejor has 10 employees who take turns meeting our clients’ needs, seven days a week from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. In the mornings, customers line up outside our location waiting for their breakfast of recently baked pan con frijoles or tamales, with coffee, of course. Mothers bring their children on the way to school. My business features bilingual staff, accessibility for disabled individuals, and tables/chairs that allow customers to enjoy their meal and meet others from the neighborhood. My employee, Chiquita, is a happy and efficient cashier who assists customers in selecting bread, makes jokes, provides samples or explains ingredients — all in less than a minute. Customers also have a chance to watch our large-screen TV.
Every month, a local artist decorates the front store windows with a theme selected by me, usually linked to that month’s celebration. This window art encourages cultural expression.
Where do you see your business in five years?
I see my business serving the community, still being a comfortable place where people can meet, talk and enjoy the products of their preference. The building owner has renewed my lease several times: With a lease extension for a few more years, I am relieved that I can keep operating in the Mission. The location is very close to the 24th Street BART, creating easy access for customers. La Mejor Bakery will always offer tasty products at affordable prices, coupled with great customer service.
What do you love about the Mission?
I grew up in the Mission and attended Horace Mann. I understand this neighborhood. Although the Mission has its own challenges for small businesses, I know that La Mejor has a loyal clientele because I offer more just than a piece of bread or a cup of coffee — I provide a place for diverse people to gather. The Mission features a multicultural environment. That is our neighborhood’s strength.