Baking With Passion
When I walk into Passion Bakery Café in Sandy Spring in early March, my eyes and smile widen as I fixate on a display case filled with layer cakes, eclairs and napoleons stuffed with custardy pastry cream, cupcakes piled high with swirls of icing, and colorful tarts teeming with shiny slices of glazed strawberries, grapes, pineapple, kiwi and mango. Other cases offer croissants, pains au chocolat and a vast assortment of cookies.
Salvadoran brothers Melvin and Huber Mendoza own Passion Bakery Café, which has three locations—the Sandy Spring flagship opened in December 2012, Beltsville in 2017 and Silver Spring in October.
Melvin, 48, explains how the bakeries came to be. “My father sent me to live with an aunt in Arlington [Virginia] in 1990. It was during the civil war in El Salvador, a very difficult time. I was the oldest. It was dangerous for me to stay. There was no future there,” he says. Through his aunt, he got a job at Washington’s Watergate Pastry and worked there for 15 years. “They taught me how to bake. They let me make cookies, doughs, icings, everything. I worked seven days a week then and still do now. That’s the only way to get the American dream.”
Melvin’s brothers Huber, Elmer and Inmar came to the States one by one over the following six years, as did sister Aleyda. All worked for the company that owned Watergate Pastry. In 2004, Melvin opened Flowers Bakery in Silver Spring with partners. In 2012, driving past a French bakery he knew in Sandy Spring, he noticed it had closed. He saw this as a good opportunity to go into business with family. He and Huber bought the business and its equipment for $60,000. Passion Bakery Café opened that December.
At first, Huber, now 46, did everything—the baking, the buying, working the cash register. After two months, business really picked up and Melvin sold his share of Flowers and joined Huber. They hired more staff. Now all of the siblings work in the stores, as do some of their children.
In addition to sweets, the cafes serve breakfast items and sandwiches. They have many wholesale accounts, but that wasn’t always the case. Melvin speaks of being discriminated against for being Hispanic when he’d make sales calls to hotels and country clubs in the early days. “Many people treated me very badly. They didn’t take me seriously as a businessperson, but once they got to know us and our product, the business grew.” Now Passion Bakery Café has roughly 40 employees. “The customers come in and leave happy. We have a lot of business, so we help a lot of families bring food to the table every day,” Melvin says. “I think we are in the American dream.”
Passion Bakery Café, 2277 Bel Pre Road, Suite 205, Silver Spring (Plaza Del Mercado), 301-460-0600; 816 Olney Sandy Spring Road, Sandy Spring, 301-570-4583; 11120 Baltimore Ave., Beltsville, 301-931-1900; thepassionbakerycafe.com.