Most of the boxes that show up on my porch are surprise packages containing home-related items my wife purchases for her remodeling projects. (Sorry, Alma.) I buy books and taco-culture tchotchkes. Sometimes, food is nestled in those boxes. As was the case one day, when a box from San Antonio’s La Panadería was resting behind one of my porch columns. That package was stuffed with a cooled red bakery box bearing the bakery’s logo—a person riding a bike with a basket of pastries on his head—and reheating instructions. Inside was treasure: a dozen individually wrapped, sugar-dusted empanadas. The flaky, fruit jelly–filled triangular hand pies are part of a dizzying range of Mexican breakfast pastries known as pan dulces. There were sweet strawberry empanadas, tart apple empanadas, bright pineapple empanadas, and mouth-puckeringly tart guava empanadas. Needless to say, I did not wait until the next morning to dig in. I needed a taste of a favorite bakery of mine, one that felt so much farther away during the pandemic. I needed my pan dulce. 

The majority of Texans don’t need a formal introduction to pan dulces. The most famous is the concha, a cloud-soft sweet baked good whose top layer is stenciled with a shell pattern. Sometimes conchas are chocolate (that would be the brown topping); sometimes they’re white (those would be the vanilla). They can also be found in orange, pink, and other hues, and they’re addictive. But there are myriad other pastries to choose from at La Panadería, including mighty bear claws and cronchas, not to mention the bakery’s signature item: indulgent tequila almond croissants dotted with slivered nuts and covered in a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

Before the pandemic, long lines queued up just inside the front doors at the bakery’s downtown location. (That East Houston Street shop followed the first location in Alamo Heights, which opened in 2014.) In addition to pastries, tortas and soups are popular at lunch. The dining room—which remains closed—is cozy and welcoming, with cafe tables and comfortable chairs. Like so many restaurants, La Panadería was forced to completely rethink its business model when COVID-19 hit. Thankfully, the bakery was in a position to shift to a plan that could sustain it through COVID-19 restrictions: two-day statewide shipping.

la-panaderia-shipping-package-wrapped-empanadas

La Panadería individually wraps empanadas for shipping.

Photograph by José R. Ralat

“About fifty percent of our emails up to this point had been about shipping requests for our products,” says David Cáceres, who co-owns the San Antonio Mexican-style bakery along with his brother, José. The brothers had never before shipped their food statewide, but it was clear that customers wanted—nay, needed—pastries to sustain them through these hard days. At first, they offered only their empanadas, but customers asked for more. “We received a great reaction … but the market was even more excited once we introduced statewide shipping of our mini-conchas,” he adds.

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As summer progressed, they expanded to offer the bakery’s signature tequila almond croissants, regular croissants, and the option of an assorted pastry pack. The bakery has since mailed orders as far south as the Rio Grande Valley and as far north as Lubbock. Cáceres attributes the quick expansion to engagement on Instagram and Facebook. “[It] has been the channel that is driving these sales.”

Although Cáceres won’t share numbers, he does say that the shipping program has kept La Panadería afloat during the pandemic, even if it’s not as profitable as he would like. “Our entire online ordering program has made the difference between our stores closing or keeping our business going,” he says. “We expect that shipping will be a big part of our future, but it will take a year to really start making a difference in our bottom line.”

Visit La Pandería’s website to place your order.