Bakery Opened by a Latina Over 20 Years Ago is a Staple in Des Moines

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Photo by Wezz De La Rosa
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By Christina Fernández-Morrow, Hola Iowa

Baking treats for her co-workers, Raquel Paz never imagined it would lead to becoming one of the first Latinas to open a business in Des Moines. Paz, her husband Jesus, and their infant daughter moved to Iowa in the late 90’s, where they found jobs cleaning offices. In the evenings, Paz enjoyed baking cakes she learned to make as a child in Mexico. But it’s not the time in the kitchen that Paz relies on the most in her business, it’s the times she went shopping with her grandmother. “She talked to everyone at the market. We would be there longer than we needed because she would have a conversation with everybody. I think I inherited that trait.” She loves talking to her clients and making them happy. “Being Latina helps me be more authentic in my interactions with customers. We talk about more than just cake; we talk about our lives, our culture, food, our families, what we go through. There’s always something to relate to. Those connections invigorate me.” Besides helping her learn more about customers, her gift for building relationships helped start her business. 

After getting compliments on the baked goods she’d take to work, co-workers began asking her to bake for their special occasions. She started with flan and tres leches cake recipes she remembered from her childhood. With rave reviews, she created a flyer and posted it on the bulletin board of a Mexican grocery store in Des Moines. “There weren’t many options for Spanish speaking bakers at the time. I’d call people and say, ‘Hi, I have a deal on cheesecakes, would you like to place an order?’ They always said yes.” As word spread, she began getting orders more regularly. She would work all day cleaning offices, and then get home to bake while her husband helped where he could and cared for their baby. “We had cakes everywhere – on the counters, inside cabinets, all over the kitchen.” By the time her daughter was a year old, Paz decided to quit her cleaning job and focus on baking. As she outgrew her kitchen, it was clear she needed a larger space dedicated to baking. “Having a business is hard. It seemed like I was doing so well when my kitchen at home was full of cakes but in a commercial kitchen, I learned it wasn’t enough. One weekend I only sold 6 cakes.” But Paz continued to work on her skills and use customer feedback to improve. In a year she outgrew that kitchen too and began looking at locations that included retail space. In 2004 she moved to her current location. She was one of the first Latina businesses in the area that later became La Placita, a stretch of East Grand Avenue with mostly Latino-owned businesses that was later developed to resemble a town square in Mexico. 

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Twenty years after that move, Paz reflects on the transformation she’s experienced within her business.
“I’ve seen so many changes in our community. For example, I get a lot more orders for graduation cakes. I like that. We have a diversity of clients now. At first it was all Latino, but now I have some non-Latino customers who love tres leches cakes.” As demands have changed, Paz remains humble and honest. There are times when clients want a design she and her team are unable to provide. “We can’t do everything. I focus on quality for what we can do; sometimes that’s different than what the customer has in mind, but similar enough to make them happy. If we can’t do that, we will refer them to other bakeries that might be able to meet their needs.” 

Paz makes sure to credit her family for supporting the growth of her business and the sacrifices it requires. When they first opened, Paz worked in the bakery all day while Jesus worked cleaning offices. He would join her after work, and they’d bake well into the night while their daughters played in the bakery. Even after Jesus dedicated his help full time, the couple had very little time away from the bakery. Up until 2017, the bakery was open seven days a week. That year was the first time she was able to be closed on Sundays, allowing her more time with her family that has grown to three adult daughters, a son-in-law, and a young grandson. When she thinks about the future of her business, she hopes it lives on, but doesn’t put that pressure on her children. “My daughters all love the bakery and help all the time, but I don’t see them taking it on and I respect that. I want them to be happy in whatever they do.”

One thing is certain, happiness is at the forefront of her business. “I feel privileged with every client that comes in, from those from my days working out of my home, to those who come in for the first time today.” With the help of her husband, her team at the bakery, and the support of her daughters, Pastelería Raquel will continue to be a staple in the community for decades to come.

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