San Francisco State University
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STORY - The smells of traditional Mexican sweet bread, coffee brewing and tamales warming up attract a steady line of early morning customers on their way to work. Many of them have been regulars of the bakery for several years. For them it is a place where everyone is treated like family.
Her grandfather learned to bake, he taught her dad the same skills and she opened up her own bakery as a tribute. In 1993, Carmen Elias opened up La Mejor Bakery in San Francisco's Mission District cultivating lasting relationships with everyone that walked through her doors.
"There was nobody in this area open early and nobody open late," said Elias, 63, as she explained the first two years of the bakery's opening. "So the first thing I decided was that the customers need to know me."
Elias joins her staff at work helping run front of house operations with a team of women while bread is baked in the back, at times with the help of her brother and her son. After 25 years of business, the bakery has become rooted in the community and resistant to the city's wave of gentrification that has forced other long-time local businesses away. Customer loyalty built on relationships with the bakery staff is what holds it all together.
Family, as explained by Elias, is the main symbol embedded in the bakery's culture and history. Even if you can't afford to pay for a cup of coffee or a small piece of bread, you're taken cared of.
"It's like a big family, said employee Miriam Huerta, 57, in Spanish. "Everybody knows each other."
CAPTION: Miriam Huerta, 57, speaks to an early morning customer at La Mejor Bakery in San Francisco, Calif., Monday, June 4, 2018.
Located in the heart of San Francisco's Mission District, the business has rooted itself within the neighborhood, resisting a changing city landscape and exodus by gentrification.
Miriam Huerta, 57, ties her apron shortly after starting the morning shift at 4:30 a.m. at La Mejor Bakery in San Francisco, Calif., Monday, June 4, 2018.
Huerta, a Mission District resident, has worked at the bakery for the past 15 years. "Customers know me by name," she said. "It's a community here."
Pan dulce, which translates to sweet bread in Spanish, is displayed at La Mejor Bakery in San Francisco, Calif., Sunday, June 3, 2018.
Carmen Elias, owner of the bakery, opened the family business in 1993 with money from her early retirement pension after working at a bank for twenty years. The bakery was a tribute to her deceased father and grandfather who were both bakers themselves during their lifetime.
A woman walks past La Mejor Bakery as Miriam Huerta stocks up supplies before the morning rush in San Francisco, Calif., Monday, June 4, 2018.
When the bakery first opened, it had to compete with seven existing bakeries located down the same street within one mile. La Mejor Bakery was the only one situated west of Mission Street.
Claudia Rojas, 39, neatly organizes freshly-baked bread at La Mejor Bakery in San Francisco, Calif., Monday, June 4, 2018.
"There was a lot of changes, a lot of people, a lot of investments," said Carmen Elias about the change in the neighborhood. "People bought big companies and whole streets. People started losing their leases, so a lot of them moved."
Gonzalo Pulido, 64, left, and Juan Marcos, 47, right, work the kitchen baking bread at La Mejor Bakery in San Francisco, Calif., Monday, June 4, 2018.
"I come by to help when I can," said Gonzalo, Carmen Elias' older brother. Elias' son Alberto Guzman, 38, also helps in the kitchen baking bread and recently opened up his own bakery in the East Bay.
Carmen Elias, owner of La Major Bakery, leans her hand on a display before picking out bread for a customer in San Francisco, Calif., Monday, June 4, 2018.
Elias was born in Mexico City, Mexico and moved to San Francisco with her family at the age of 12 after her father was offered a job on a work visa in 1968. Since then, she's never moved out of the Bay Area.
A father holds his child as they wait in line at La Mejor Bakery in San Francisco, Calif., Monday, June 4, 2018.
The bakery relies on a mixture of tourists, Bay Area and local residents to support the business. Its morning rush patrons come from all parts of the Bay Area, including the vicinities of the East Bay and the Peninsula.
Claudia Rojas carries a plate of conchas, a traditional Mexican sweet bread, through a crowded aisle at La Mejor Bakery in San Francisco, Calif., Monday, June 4, 2018.
Patrons gather inside La Mejor Bakery during the morning rush in San Francisco, Calif., Monday, June 4, 2018.
The bakery makes most of its revenue during the first four hours of daily operations according to Carmen Elias. After that time slot, foot traffic dwindles in numbers and slows in pace. The morning customers, many of them regulars, are a major reason for the bakery remaining open according to Elias.
Dania Rojas, 36, glances past a card with the depiction of the Blessed Virgin Mary at La Mejor Bakery in San Francisco, Calif., Monday, June 4, 2018.
Carmen Elias, owner of La Mejor Bakery, smiles as she chats with a customer in San Francisco, Calif., Monday, June 4, 2018.
Customer loyalty built on relationships with the bakery staff is what mends it all together. Elias believes that the feeling of home, family and community is what drives the true spirit of the bakery.
Carmen Elias bags a customer's order of conchas at her bakery, La Mejor, in San Francisco, Calif., Monday, June 4, 2018.
"Everybody has their dreams," Elias said. "Little dreams [and] big dreams, you can achieve them."
SINGLE - One-hundred-and-eleven-year-old Lucy Mirigian, center, is greeted by Lee Houskeeper, left, as her daughter Sonia Mirigian, right, watches with admiration during an Election Day Free Lunch at John's Grill in San Francisco, Calif., Tuesday, June 5, 2018. Lucy Mirigian is the oldest voter in the City and County of San Francisco and was named the event's guest of honor by former mayor Willie Brown, Jr.
"Women didn't win the right to vote until she was 13 years old," Brown said in a newspaper column. "She has exercised her franchise in every election going back decades."
Mirigian casted her vote early at the end of May for mayoral candidate London Breed, San Francisco Board of Supervisors President, who briefly served as interim mayor following Edwin Lee's death.
"Women should vote," said Mirigian. "They have a lot of power to vote."