Business still booms at Cuban bread’s birthplace: 100-year-old Florida bakery


Helen Anne Travis (The Guardian) writes about La Segunda Central Bakery, whose founder Juan Moré brought the recipe from Spain to Tampa a century ago. Travis points out that “the history of Cuban bread can be traced back to the flour-strewn halls of a small bakery on the edge of Ybor City in Tampa, Florida.” See excerpts here:

Exactly a century ago, La Segunda Central Bakery founder Juan Moré started hawking crispy loaves to the Italian, Cuban and Spanish workers in Ybor City’s cigar factories. The rolls were sliced open and packed thick with cured meats, pickles and mustard, a combination that would eventually show up on menus around the world. You might recognize it as the Cuban sandwich.

Four generations later, Moré’s family still makes more than 15,000 loaves of Cuban bread each day by hand. While their operations have changed some over the past century – current president Tony Moré bought the company’s first computer in the 1970s and his son Copeland told them about this thing called “the internet” in 2009 – the recipe has not.

Every morning, thousands of palmetto fronds are hacked into inch-wide strips that will be tucked into the dough before it bakes. It’s a scoring technique Tony More’s grandfather picked up wandering the villages of Cuba during the Spanish-American war. On the cooling racks outside the bakery’s office, the leaves poke out of the loaves like green tongues.

Tony Moré, 72, never expected to end up here. He got a PhD in chemistry so he wouldn’t have to rise before dawn to tend the dough like his father and grandfather. But as usual, life had different plans. After a few unsatisfying stints in laboratories and classrooms, Moré got the call that his parents needed help keeping up the operations. He came home, slipped on a baker’s hat and got to work.

In his grandfather’s steamy, sweet-smelling bakery Moré made Cuban bread, guava tarts and apple pies. The former chemist was a stickler for precision, following recipes to a T and diligently measuring out flour, salt and water.

The workers who had taken him fishing and to the racetrack when he was a child were now his peers. They taught him how to make flan, decorate wedding cakes, and fill éclairs. While waiting for the dough to rise they played dice on overturned dough boxes. Tony Moré rarely won.

[. . .] How exactly Juan Moré came up with his Cuban bread recipe is a little murky. According to one family legend, Juan Moré was born somewhere in northern Spain and got shipped off to Cuba to fight in the Spanish-American war. In one of the villages where he was stationed – no one’s really sure which one – Juan Moré stumbled upon a crispy round loaf of white bread. He tried it. He liked it. When he followed the trail of tobacco leaves from Havana to Ybor City, where a growing number of Cubans were finding work in the district’s booming cigar industry, he brought it with him.

The savvy bread-prenuer shaped the round loaf into a cylinder so it could feed (read: be sold to) more people, and Cuban bread was born.

As Tampa’s Ybor City transitioned from a thriving immigrant community, to a party scene, to an art district – to the mix of all of the above that it is today – La Segunda expanded. It’s now a seven-day, 24-hour operation that’s shuttered only on Christmas, New Year’s, Labor Day and Memorial Day. The bakery’s 50 or so workers roll the dough manually. They don’t trust machines to monitor its temperature. Just like Juan Moré did 100 years ago, bakers still load the loaves into the oven by hand. [. . .]

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