Cubanitos Bakery

867-869 Park Street

By Tess Donie

Los Cubanitos Bakery is located on 867-869 Park Street in Hartford, Connecticut and is part of the Frog Hollow community. It resides at the corner of Park and Zion. It is currently owned by Roberto Muniz, who took over the business recently after the death of Juan G. Castillo who passed away on April 10, 1997. Mr. Castillo started the business in 1970.[1] The bakery is a part of a larger complex owned by Zion Park Associates LTD Partnership and complex was originally built in 1920. The complex itself resides at the address 863-869 Park Street of Hartford. It consists of three levels and a basement; however, the bakery itself only takes up part of the first floor. This building includes apartments on the second and third floor levels and a light manufacturing unit that shares the first floor with the bakery.

The building itself is of mixed style with a concrete foundation. It has a wooden frame and a primary wall of brick, as well as a flat roof structure made from asphalt.[2]The exterior, especially the roof, is rather interesting. It has very unique looking off-white plaques that are somewhat worn and hard to discern what specifically they depict. In addition, like most buildings the interior primary wall is made of drywall. The storefront that Los Cubanitos Bakery has within the 7,300 square foot building is 1,015 square feet. The building is in average condition, having depreciated 40% since it was built. The assessed value for the building complex as of January of 2009 is $81,170, with a building value of 72,100 and land value of 91,300.[3]

The structure of Los Cubanitos Bakery itself is authentic to how it was built in 1920. The bakery on the exterior has a navy blue sign extending to both the Park and Zion sides of the building that reads “Los Cubanitos Bakery.” This sign is located above the storefront glass window that also extends to both the Park and Zion sides. The glass windows are somewhat cloudy, but still translucent enough to see inside the store. In the storefront windows are neon fluorescent lights. On the Park Street side there are two lights that read “Coffee served all day” and “Sandwiches cubanos,” while on the Zion side there is a light in the shape of a donut that reads “Donuts.” Also in the store front windows are displays of their beautifully made cakes. There are birthday cakes and wedding cakes. Also, there are some floral arrangements to add to the scene.

The interior of the bakery is somewhat old and worn, but has a very welcoming and homelike atmosphere. The floors consist of ceramic tiles and mats lining the path that customers walk on to order. The walls are somewhat worn as well, but are well decorated with pictures of the workers and families, an American flag, and a Cuban flag. This not only creates an atmosphere of family, but also an atmosphere of pride for their identity as Cubans and Americans. Furthermore, there is a religious poster of Jesus on the cross, which shows the religiosity and faith of those that have helped this business grow for almost forty years. I think the most impressive feature in the interior of the bakery, however, is the large framed portrait of Mr. Castillo. The portrait shows a rather stoic Mr. Castillo, paying tribute to the man who started Los Cubanitos Bakery. By having this portrait hang in clear view on a daily basis, it reinforces the decades of tradition the bakery continues to carry on as well reminding the workers and the community of the story of the founder himself. Mr. Castillo left Cuba in 1956 and traveled to the Bronx of New York. [4] He immigrated for what his daughter, Martha Egozcue, describes as, “for what every immigrant comes here for: to prosper.”[5] His daughter also emphasizes the fact that his recipes are something that he wanted passed down and kept as the bakery’s own. He worked as a welder in both New York and Connecticut before finally deciding to open a bakery. The bakery quickly became a place of comfort for the Cuban and Puerto Rican inhabitants of Hartford because it gave them a taste of home.[6]

Other than the sentimental photographs on the walls, the contents within the establishment include tall coolers of juice and soda, which consist of both English and Spanish-named brands. Directly across from the entrance is a case with cookies and donuts at which customers can stare and salivate as the wait in line. The left hand side of the bakery is where business takes place with a path set off for the customers by a rope. Next to this path lie cases that hold the rest of the bakery’s desserts: puddings, custards, donuts, slices of cakes, and danishes. The workers stand and efficiently serve the customers from behind these cases. There is a coffee pot always brewing behind the counter, as well. Also available in the store are an ATM to take out money and gumball machines for children.

Roberto Muniz is the private owner of the business Los Cubanitos Bakery. The bakery is a small business in terms of workers as it employs about 8 people. It draws in business mainly from the Latino population of the Frog Hollow neighborhood. However, the baker, Juan, says that the bakery also receives business from the greater Hartford area, including non-Latinos. He also says that much of the business comes from regulars. It is also a multi-lingual establishment, with orders that can be heard made in Spanish, English, Portuguese, or a combination of the three. The bakery sells about $190,000 worth of pastries per year. As a part of this commerce, Los Cubanitos specializes in Cuban desserts and breads, selling Cuban bread, danishes, donuts, and cakes. Specifically, the types of bread found at Los Cubanitos include Pan de Ajo, which is garlic bread, Pan Cubano, which is Cuban bread, and Pan de Agua, which is water bread.[7] These can be bought for as little as fifty cents. Also, Los Cubanitos serves breakfast in the morning, including egg sandwiches. Not only does the bakery make breakfast sandwiches, but it also it makes lunch sandwiches, including turkey, pastrami, and Cuban sandwiches.

The pastries of the bakery are perhaps the most tempting items you see and smell when you walk into the bakery. Los Cubanitos has two specialties regarding cakes; one is its guava cake, and the other is its Valencia cake. The recipe of the Valencia cake is an original secrete recipe dating all the way back to when Mr. Castillo started the business in 1970. Amongst its array of deserts, pastries, and cakes is the “Brazo Gitano.” This dessert consists of a cake that is rolled up with jam in the middle. Another sweet is the “Panetela Borracha.” This pastry is mixed with rum and shaped like a cone. Additionally, the bakery has cheesecake and éclairs. Other than these pastries, the bakery sells several “pastelillos.” Pastelillos are much like turnovers, but made differently. The dough is layered so it is more like phyllo. These can be filled with anything from fruit like apples or pineapples to cheese and meat. Also famous is Los Cubanitos’ “Pastel de Guayaba.” This pastry contains guava and can be eaten with cheese or ice cream. Other desserts include flan and custard.[8]

Los Cubanitos Bakery is really an amazing business. It seems to be an important hub of the neighborhood. On a weekend morning to early afternoon, there is usually a line extending all the way out onto the street. There is a noisy bustle of customers, usually speaking in Spanish. There are adults, as well as teenagers and small children with their families. The workers there are very polite and helpful, as well as working extremely efficiently. The bakery has an incredible smell, with a mix of coffee and the sweetness of the donuts. The food is fairly priced; you can even buy a loaf of hot fresh bread for merely fifty cents. This act of commerce and business is a way in which the Latino community in the Frog Hollow area form sentiments of solidarity and identify as one group. It is through these transactions that relationships are formed. Even more importantly is that relationships are formed not just among Cubans, but with other Latinos of the community such as the Puerto Rican community. It is an extremely personal atmosphere on all accounts that justly portrays the flavor of Park Street and the Hartford Latino community.

[1] Castillo, Juan G.:[STATEWIDE Edition]. (1997, April 10). Hartford Courant,p. B.8. Retrieved from Hartford Courant database. (Document ID: 15998531).

[2] Registry of Deeds. Map 402, Block 001, Lot 001. Hartford: Patriot Properties Inc.

[3] Registry of Deeds. Map 402, Block 001, Lot 001. Hartford: Patriot Properties Inc.

[4] Matthew Kauffman. Courant Staff Writer. (2001, March 28). Family Recipe Bakery is a Warm Tradition on Park Street]. Hartford Courant, p. E1. Retrieved April 13, 2009, from Hartford Courant database. (Document ID: 70117482).

[5] Kauffman, “Family Recipe Bakery is a Warm Tradition on Park Street.”

[6] Kauffman, “Family Recipe Bakery is a Warm Tradition on Park Street.”

[7] Bessy, Reyna. (2002, December 5). Short Order. Hartford Courant,p. 14. Retrieved from Hartford Courant database. (Document ID: 253627591).

[8] Bessy, Reyna. (2002, December 5). Short Order. Hartford Courant,p. 14. Retrieved from Hartford Courant database. (Document ID: 253627591).