Baking in the Sun

Walking into El Sol Mexican Café & Bakery in Chandler, you don't get the feeling that the panederia was born in the streets. The place is slightly upscale, and the walls are painted in bright yellows, blues and greens and adorned with iguanas and suns.

But humble beginnings is exactly how founder Daniel de la Cruz Sr. got his start in 1987 after moving from Midvale, Utah where he ran a successful Mexican restaurant.

"I had a table, my mixer and all my materials in the garage. In July with no air conditioning, I made the bread and my wife Beatrice would bake it in the kitchen," he says. The sweetbreads then went into his pickup. "I went door-to-door, and there was a group of people and they bought my bread. Then they sent me to their tias, abuelas and cousins," the panadero says.

After a successful stint as a street vendor, de la Cruz opened El Sol as a bakery first and added a restaurant later. Soon, a panadero from Mexico showed up, and de la Cruz hired him on the spot, which allowed him to hit the streets again. "We have pictures of my mom and dad passed out on the bathroom floor," says Daniel Jr., who now runs El Sol with brother David. "It was the coolest room in the house. It was farthest from the kitchen."

"Little by little, other panaderos from Mexico found me and we grew," David Sr. says. But one thing hasn't changed. Alberto Duran, that first panadero, still comes in at 9 p.m. and bakes until 4 a.m. That's when Duran's son clocks in and takes over.

In 2000, Beatrice de la Cruz passed away, but her creations live on at each of the family's 4 restaurants, including El Zocalo located down the street and run by Obed de la Cruz, the youngest and most ambitious son. "Obed pushes us to the edge, gets us in trouble. He's the risk taker. Without him we might only have one location," sister Ismeralda says.

Another son, Omar, spent two weeks under the tutelage of some of Mexico's finest panaderos. "He picked up better recipes and different ways to make the bread. That really helped out the biz," Daniel Jr. says.

But that's not the only reason customers keep coming back. "We have customers that have been with us since day one. We use the best ingredients. We don't try to rip off the people. That's why people come from all over," Daniel Jr. insists. And we're not just talking pan dulce loving Latinos either. "We have them all. Asians, blacks, Philipinos, Italians, South Americans. A lot of Mexicanos and a lot of gringos. I guess they like our bread."

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Dan Cortez