The human tongue, Samuel Zuniga says, has 5,000 tastebuds. And that’s about right – the tongue has between 2,000 and 8,000 of the hairy little organs that die out and are replaced with new ones about every two weeks, transmitting sweet, sour, bitter or salty flavors to the brain.
The number of tastebuds is important, Zuniga says, because how else can he explain making 50 different types of breads, pastries and cookies – many sweet and some savory – every day at his Guadalajara Bakery?
“Somebody came in and asked what’s different about us. What makes us different is our flavors,” he says.
His cases are loaded, with everything from French custard pastries to pineapple cheese pastries and conchas – the classic, shell-shaped sweet bread – and conchitas (wee conchas) in a variety of flavors, including ginger and, arriving soon, pumpkin spice. And as a knock-your-socks-off nod to the savory, Zuniga produces a jalapeño and cream cheese bolillo that makes the perfect base for a torta.
“We don’t want to have repeats,” he says of the variety.
Zuniga, at only 32, has been in the baking business for about half his life. At age 15, as a student at Everett Alvarez High School in Salinas, he obtained his work permit and landed in the very same bakery he now owns.
Zuniga spoke to the Weekly from his large commercial kitchen on East Market Street in Salinas, in between taking care of customers.
Weekly: Your pink building is hard to miss. How long have you been operating here?
Zuniga: I opened on June 8. We’re renting the space. Fifteen years ago, I started working here as a summer job and I’ve been in baking ever since. We’re open at 5am and we’re here all day.
Maintaining a small business during the pandemic is difficult, much less opening one. How are things going?
It’s been a slow start. As we’re building up clientele, I was able to get a cashier. I think because of the pandemic, people are scared to come out. We’ve been lucky in getting enough clients to pay the rent and buy supplies.
I was finally able to hire a baker, who should be starting soon. I’m not yet taking a paycheck. I wasn’t expecting to do this this year and I wasn’t feeling financially ready. But it turns out you’re never really ready until you start doing it.
You make 50 types of bread, but what are some of your favorites and how do you decide what to make?
French custard is driving everyone’s attention. A lot of these breads are French, but I learned them in Spanish because it’s a Mexican bakery. Some recipes come from El Salvador, some from Oaxaca, some from France.
The conchas are one of the most traditional breads, whether it’s Oaxacan or El Salvadoran. All of Latin America is familiar with the concha. I want to bring in another display case and as more clients come in, we’ll be producing more.
You first got my attention by hosting a pop-up with Casas de Humo barbecue, in which Jorge Casas used the jalapeño-cream cheese roll and stuffed it with smoked brisket or pulled pork. He also did a sandwich using a concha as the base. How are the pop-ups working out for you?
The pop-ups have been really good, we’ve been able to give out samples of our bread because our advertising is by taste, and we have to get people in the door.
We have to pay really close attention to the bread because it expires in a certain amount of hours, so we’re making, say, five breads at a time of each selection, but it’s all fresh, which is how a bakery should be running.
How does your day flow?
All day we’re doing prep work, and toward the end of the day we start making what needs to be prepped for the following morning. For bread to stay with its full flavor, it has to be baked within 12 hours, otherwise the yeast will start eating the sugar. We have to be very specific in what time we start baking.
GUADALAJARA BAKERY, 699 E. Market St., Salinas. 272-3311, instagram.com/guadalajarabkrysalinas.