To hear Adrian Jimenez tell it, her baking career happened by accident. To break up the monotony of a corporate career in project management, she attended culinary school in 2003, then landed a job doing pastry. “Pastry kind of chose me, I didn’t choose it,” she says.
She dreamed of someday opening a catering business, but that seemed like a longshot. Then her friend Terri Madrid was relocating her shop, Gold Leaf Spice and Teas, and suggested Jimenez move in.
“I said no three times before I ran the numbers and said, it’s now or never,” Jimenez says. “I’m at a job I’m not happy with, and I have this passion thing I love to do. I decided, I’ll run a kickstarter for $12,000; if it gets funded it’s meant to be, if it doesn’t, at least I tried.”
She opened Blue Aces Bake Shoppe in 2015, and quickly outgrew the space. Before the pandemic, she was at a turning point: Close the customer-facing storefront and just make orders, or scale up into a more cafe-style environment?
She still isn’t sure, but she’s getting through the pandemic on a limited schedule (open Thursday-Saturday) while caring for her two children who are attending school remotely. The part-time schedule comes after closing fully for two months, then reopening thanks to Paycheck Protection Program funds that enabled Jimenez to hire back five of her six staff members (one is on maternity leave). She spoke to the Weekly about running a bakery in this unpredictable time.
Weekly: You’re still touring bigger bakery spaces. This seems like a crazy time to scale up.
Jimenez: We are busting at the seams. We have been for four years. At this point, do I have the room to make the stuff? Yes. Do I have a place to put it once it’s made? No. We are fortunate to get PPP funding to sustain us through this time. It’s enough to keep us holding on at this point, but we can’t do anything with our limited capacity to take on more. It’s like, go smaller or go bigger, but where we’re at, we really can’t continue.
What’s popular these days?
Weddings are still taking place, on the smaller side. What we are seeing the most of is drive-thru birthday parties, baby showers, bridal showers. People are still getting engaged and having celebrations.
I know bakeries fall into the definition of essential businesses as foodservice, but I think of pastries and cakes as special-occasion food.
It’s something I felt very guilty about, us being “essential” while others in service, like barbers and hairdressers, were not considered essential. It’s so unfair.
I consider what we do to be a luxury item, but it does feel like a breath of fresh air when we’re contributing joy. We’re able to provide a sense of normalcy. That feels really good.
It’s been difficult for home bakers to find basic ingredients like flour during SIP. Do you have that problem?
That’s why we initially had to close. We couldn’t get flour, we couldn’t get sugar, we couldn’t get eggs, we couldn’t get butter.
Then any time I saw [on social media] somebody who said, ‘Does anybody know where to buy yeast?’ I made a bread care package. You want yeast, I have 10 pounds of it! I would do porch-side drop-offs. The whole family would be in the window, cheering and clapping because they knew they were getting a treat.
What’s your favorite bakery item to eat?
It’s not what people expect, I’m not a sweets person. There are three things I want to try in a bakery: your pastry cream; almond croissants – I need to try the almond paste; and I like the flaky, savory side, I love quiche. Crème brûlée is my weakness.
What’s your favorite to bake?
French Macarons. They’re really complex; there’s that personal victory in getting it right. And something so small, to be able to pack so much flavor into it.
What’s most popular during SIP?
Cinnamon Roll Saturday has been huge. We have people telling us, thank you for being open. Our community is really rallying around us. One of the things I’ve seen that makes my heart so full is the way people have really shown up for small business.
BLUE ACES BAKE SHOPPE, 8 W. Gabilan St., Salinas. 975-4714, blueacesonline.com.