La Unica Bakery, owned by Dáris Herrera, 39, is a family run bakery which has been located in downtown Carbondale for 12 years. Not only does the bakery provide pastries for their customers but they provide for local businesses like Underground Public House, August 27, 2020. (Ana Luiza Jacome | @aluizaphotography)
La Unica Bakery, owned by Dáris Herrera, 39, is a family run bakery which has been located in downtown Carbondale for 12 years. Not only does the bakery provide pastries for their customers but they provide for local businesses like Underground Public House, August 27, 2020.

Ana Luiza Jacome | @aluizaphotography

Family, kindness and baked goods-An inside look at Carbondale’s Panadería La Única

When COVID-19 hit the United States hard in March, many stores had found their doors closed and customers virtually non-existent. That, however, didn’t stop Panadería La Única from staying open and providing baked items to customers that came in.

September 3, 2020

When you enter Panadería La Unica, you’re greeted by the kindness of a family and the smells of breads and pastries fill the air.

Panadería La Única was opened by Dáris Herrera in 2007 when she arrived in Carbondale, and is unique for being the only Guatemalan bakery in the city, hence its name translating to “The Only Bakery.” 

Herrera was originally from Guatemala and lived out in California with the rest of her family before moving to Carbondale and opening La Única.

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She was joined initially by her brother Oscar Bran and as the years went on, the rest of the family made their way to Carbondale and to Panadería La Única.

Herrera originally hired an outside baker to work in the shop. Oscar shadowed the baker and spent his time assisting and learning, eventually making his way up to main baker back in 2013.

In 2009, they were joined by close family friend Domingo Valdez. Valdez, who was a landscaper in California before moving to Carbondale, has spent the past four years as the head cake maker, climbing the ranks in the bakery and specializing in the craft.

Two years later, Bran’s daughter, Gaudy Bran, made it to Carbondale, although she didn’t join the La Única staff until February of this year. 

The most recent member of the family to join was Roxana Gambod, Herrera’s older sister, who came onboard in 2016 and helps out in all areas of the bakery.

With breads, pastries, and cakes being the main finds inside, you may notice that there’s a lack of one specific thing: customers.

When COVID-19 hit the United States hard in March, many stores had found their doors closed and customers virtually non-existent. That, however, didn’t stop Panadería La Única from staying open and providing baked items to customers that came in.

The family run bakery made the decision as a whole to stay open back in March, making adjustments to their business to comply with the safety procedures they had to follow.

“We weren’t really considered a restaurant, so we didn’t have to close,” Herrera stated. 

People couldn’t dine in and masks became a necessity, but overall, not much had changed for them inside the bakery.

When the changes first started out, they had allowed for customers that forgot their mask to ring the bakery’s doorbell and have items brought out to them, but not too long after, people started to understand that they needed a mask, and this helped things transition smoothly.

When asked what the demographics looked like for people who had been coming to the bakery,  Herrera’s response was that it’s primarily older folk and college students.

Herrera said that there wasn’t much change even with the pandemic.

“There isn’t much of a rush now, it’s more hit or miss,” Gaudy said when discussing the lack of a daily influx of customers. 

Gaudy said that the less people walking outside means less people deciding to stop into the shop.

With the pandemic, Oscar says the bakery “sees an average of around 30 to 50 customers, with SIU students making up somewhere between 20 to 30 percent of those customers.”

There wasn’t much of a significant decline in profits when the pandemic hit, and now that some restaurants are open again, they’re able to supply things such as bread made by Oscar to places such as Underground Public House.

It was added that while there was only a small decline in both customers and profit, the biggest hit part of the bakery was its cakes side, headed by Valdez.

“We cater for any and all events, from birthdays all the way to weddings,” Valdez said. “[But] that side of the business basically dried up with the pandemic.” 

While they are still making cakes in addition to everything else, it’s not to the same order scale that it used to be, lowering the total revenue the bakery had originally been garnering before the pandemic.

With that in mind, they are primarily focused on the breads and smaller pastries that they make instead.

Along with popular items such as their jalapeño bread, which contains cream cheese and jalapeños within it, the upcoming months will see them making Pan de Muerto closer to the month of October, and Rosa de Reyes closer to November and December, with Oscar stating that both hold deep roots in Mexican culture.

As Oscar explained, Pan de Muerto, or “Bread of Death”, is a bread that is traditionally taken by Mexican citizens to the cemeteries where their loved ones rest to honor them.

Oscar then explained that “Rosa de Reyes is a bread that is baked with a small baby figure inside of it, and the member of the family that receives the slice with the baby figure in it is then tasked with cooking the family dinner.”

Staying open since March has had seemingly minor effects on the bakery, allowing them to continue to thrive. 

A small yet inviting space, where the professionalism of these five is matched in spades by their friendliness, Panadería La Única is doing well amidst the pandemic, staying afloat and catering to customers even now.

Panadería La Única can be found at 213 West Main Street, and is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Staff reporter Matthew Alleyne can be reached at [email protected] or on Instagram at matt_alleyne.

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