Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:22 pm
Lopez Bakery expanding in Milwaukee, moving into Racine
A successful Hispanic-oriented bakery chain based on Milwaukee’s near south side is sprouting another Milwaukee location and expanding south to Racine.
The moves mark the third expansion in six years for the Lopez Bakery Corp., which is owned by Jose Lopez Sr., his wife, Amporo, and sons Jose Jr. and Jorge.
The family business, which currently has locations at 1601 W. Lincoln Ave., 624 W. National Ave. and 1100 W. Mitchell St., is adding a Milwaukee location on Caesar E. Chavez Drive between Scott Street and Greenfield Avenue. The Racine location will be in a storefront on North Douglas Avenue, just north of that city’s downtown.
The elder Lopez, who grew up working in his father’s bakery in Mexico, emigrated to the United States in 1967. For years, he worked in bakeries in San Antonio, Houston and Milwaukee until 1978, when he fulfilled his dream of opening his own bakery on Lapham Street. In 1982, Lopez moved his business to downtown Milwaukee’s Grand Avenue Mall. He then returned to the south side at the current National Avenue location, and purchased the Lincoln Avenue store in 1996. The Mitchell Street location was opened in 1999.
According to Jorge Lopez, the Racine location, which will be a full-service independent bakery, should be open by Christmas. Build-out of the Racine store started in mid-summer.
The new location on Milwaukee’s Chavez Drive should be open in early 2003 and will offer cakes baked on site and other specialty items. It also will serve as a retail location for goods baked at the other Milwaukee Lopez Bakery locations.
About 10 new employees will be hired to staff the Racine location, and about five will be required at the location on Chavez Drive, Jorge said. The chain of bakeries currently employs about 50.
Lopez’s Milwaukee locations and the store slated for Racine are all in heavily Hispanic-populated neighborhoods. An appreciation for good bakery is not restricted to certain ethnic groups, but the ability to deal with customers in Spanish and a specialization in authentic Mexican baked goods creates an obvious niche for the family business.
"The store in Racine was selected because it is in a heavily populated Mexican area north of the downtown," Jorge said.
Mexican specialties include Day of the Dead bread, baked for the Mexican observance of the Nov. 1 All Saints Day and Nov. 2 All Souls Day. "The Day of the Dead Bread is shaped like tombstones, skulls, death angels," Jorge said of one item baked for Dia de Los Muertos.
The Lopez bakery operations appear immune to the current economic slowdown.
"We seem to be immune to that, I guess," Jorge said of the recession. "It is one of those necessary businesses that there is always going to be a need for."
The bakery chain’s Hispanic customer base is expanding in both Milwaukee and Racine – with a population almost doubling in the 10-year period between censuses.
Milwaukee’s Hispanic population rose from 39,409 in 1990 to 71, 646 in 2000, concentrated largely on the near south side. In Racine, the Hispanic population shot up from 9,034 in 1990 to 14,900 in 2000.
In the months ahead, Lopez Bakery should benefit from another, more cyclical trend that seems to drive the business – winter. The dip in the temperature alone seems to drive people to the bakeries, according to Jorge.
"With a colder month coming, that helps business pick up, too," Jorge said. "Fresh bakery, hot coffee, cold weather outside, it brings people in."
Of course, not all of Lopez’s customers are Hispanic-Americans.
"Each location has its own personality," Jorge said. "The one on 16th and Lincoln – that is almost all Hispanic. On Mitchell Street, it is more diverse; we get all kinds of ethnic races. That is more of a business district. And Mitchell also has a restaurant. Caesar E. Chavez is a heavily Mexican area where we are going to open up. They have a lot of pedestrian traffic there – that’s one of the things that attracted us to that location. But our bakery is well known on the south side. So wherever we put it, we figure it will do OK."
Nov. 8, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee