Rebuilding a Legacy

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Photo by Tar Macias/Hola Iowa
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By Joaquin Ramirez, Hola Iowa

Latinx entrepreneurs are a source of inspiration for the business world. Their journeys are a testament to success, passion, and innovation. Their achievements contribute to our economic landscape, and their unique perspectives inspire others to chase their dreams. In the heart of Marshalltown stands Lara’s Bakery 3, a thriving, diverse, Latina-owned business that overcame challenges and setbacks to blossom into what it is today.

The Lara family bakery has been around since the late 1960s when Raul Lara, Javier Lara’s father, established it in Mexico. Javier Lara brought the business to Des Moines and, with the assistance of his siblings, opened their first location. This location is still running today, under the management of Javier’s siblings. Based on their bakery’s success in Des Moines, Lara opened Lara’s Bakery 2 in Marshalltown in 2006. The family envisioned serving the community in the downtown area, so Lara purchased two locations intending to merge them into a single business. With the help of his wife, Salustria, they accomplished that goal.

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After the grand reopening of the newly renovated Lara’s Bakery 2 in April 2018, the downtown area was filled with the inviting aroma of freshly baked confections. Unfortunately, just three months later, an infamous tornado swept through Marshalltown and caused significant damage to many homes and businesses, including Lara’s Bakery 2. Owners Salustria Lara and her daughters Gabriella Lara and Patcy Castillo experienced the devastation firsthand. Fortunately, they took shelter in a small office, and no one was hurt. But their business wasn’t as lucky. “We were affected very badly because you can say that our reality was gone,” shares Salustria. “All our efforts and dreams were invested in that building, but it was short-lived,” adds Patcy. Salustria was a driving force behind the business, but she faced health challenges after the disaster, which prevented her from planning the bakery’s restoration and future. However, her daughters stepped up to the challenge to restore the business. 

The Lara family put in a lot of effort to reconstruct their building after the destruction caused by the tornado. Unfortunately, like many others in the community who were trying to rebuild, they became victims of scammers who preyed on their desperation to restore what they had lost. A fraudulent contractor took advantage of their dire situation, making their task more challenging. After months of going back and forth with their plans, little progress was made. The city issued an ultimatum, giving them a specific time frame for completion. Unfortunately, they discovered their contractor had scammed them and taken their money. Therefore, complying with Marshalltown’s deadline was impossible. The city seized their property. “They just ended us, trampled us. The contractor robbed us, and we couldn’t do much. The city demanded that in certain months we had to fix it and have the business running, and we weren’t going to be able to,” Castillo says. 

However, the women weren’t going to give up that easily. Gabriela and Patcy approached the obstacle before them with determination. Driven by their passion for continuing their family legacy and the desire to honor their parents’ success, they understood the challenges and were determined not to let their hard work go to waste. The focus turned to their original location, revamping it to meet their needs and growth. “They have always been part of the business because they have always worked with us. We taught them that it is a family business, and we have to work for ourselves to get ahead, so they decided to be part of the business, and now they are the owners,” says their mother. 

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Despite facing challenges from natural disasters and a worldwide pandemic, the Lara women persevered against pervasive stereotypes, proving their strength in adversity.  “Being a Latina woman, it is not easy because they do not take us into account much; they think we do not have the skills to maintain and manage a business,” shares Patcy. Latina business owners encounter skepticism and discrimination, with stereotypes often undermining their credibility and progress. “They always say that one is less, one is worth less to run a business than a man, that a woman’s decision always counts less than a man’s, but I think that as a person, we are equal,” says Salustria. “That is the greatest obstacle that, like every businesswoman, we have had in our lives,” adds her daughter, Graciella. Her father, Javier Lara, expresses his pride and support for the women in the family who are at the helm of the business. “More than anything, I believe in my wife as a woman who has greatly supported me. Without her, I would be nothing. As a man, I alone would not have been able to get to where we are because we forget to give credit to our wives and daughters as women who deserve it.” He acknowledges, emphasizing the indispensable role of women in the family’s business. 

The Lara sisters successfully reopened Lara’s Bakery 3 after reclaiming their initial Marshalltown location. They each have distinct roles in managing the business. Gabriella is responsible for overseeing retail operations, store production, and uses her artistic skills to decorate cakes. Patcy, on the other hand, is responsible for product distribution, quality assurance, and networking. The sisters work in unison with the assistance of other family members, such as their husbands and their brother Javier Lara Jr., who learned the recipes from his father passed down from his grandfather. “We as a family stay united to prosper the business,” says Patcy. The Lara sisters aim to expand their distribution of baked goods to more locations, including gas stations. Their baked goods are currently distributed statewide, and in a mini mart in Wisconsin.

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The family feels gratitude to their loyal customers in the Marshalltown community and beyond, while encouraging Latina business owners to pursue their dreams. “I know it is not easy, much less at this point, because there are already many obstacles after COVID-19. Maintaining a stable business is difficult. I simply advise you not to give up; always be positive,” encourages Patcy.

JEFAS Magazine is a collaboration of writers, photographers, social media managers, editors, translators, and designers from across Illinois, Iowa and the Midwest – all of whom are Latinx. It is the first magazine created by the Latinx community, for the Latinx community that focuses on how they are boosting the economy, giving back, and filling the gap between what is needed and what is available in the state. 

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To see the locations where you can find the magazine visit @JEFASMagazine on Instagram and TikTok

You can find the digital magazine here:

https://holaamericanews.com/jefas-latinas-in-business-magazine-may-2024/

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