From Food Network to Third Avenue, local chef to open bakery in Chula Vista
Jose Barajas, who has appeared on numerous nationally televised cooking competitions, will open his own bakery in Chula Vista later this year.
After spending years competing in nationally televised cooking competitions, a South Bay local is finally opening his own bakery and cafe in downtown Chula Vista.
Jose Barajas, who has been featured in Food Network competitions such as the Next Great Baker and Gingerbread Showdown, will open Mmm … Cakes later this year with the help of his brother Miguel Barajas and sister-in-law Stevie Barajas. The shop will be on Third Avenue near F Street.
The family specifically chose to open the business along Third because they saw its economic decline and want to be part of its revitalization.
Jose Barajas, a Hilltop High School graduate, started working at a cake supply shop called Stanley’s and remembers seeing businesses up and down the avenue close.
“Working there for 15 years, I saw the rise and fall of Third Avenue,” he said. “Once the economy crashed, all of those stores were just completely empty, and landlords didn’t know what to do with them. So they just turned them into party rental spots.”
His older brother, Miguel, who is in the Air Force, remembers going to other places in San Diego and thinking that Chula Vista could be like them.
“Growing up, especially when we started going to North Park, we all thought the same thing: Third Avenue could be this,” he said. “Finally, the locals of Chula Vista are realizing the potential of that space.”
So the two brothers and Stevie, who has more than 15 years in the hospitality industry, decided to open their shop in downtown Chula Vista.
The trio signed a lease in October and spent months building the business from the ground up. This includes forming an LLC, moving through the city’s planning process, developing a menu, and working with an architect to come up with the perfect aesthetic.
That last part was straightforward. Jose Barajas knew exactly how he wanted the café and bakery to look.
“Our inspiration is really a Golden Girls feel,” he said. “Think ‘80s-esque Miami, a lot of greenery and whicker.”
He and his sister grew up watching the Golden Girls almost daily, so the show has a special place. Also, Barajas wants to make this space appealing to downtown Chula Vista’s senior population.
A lot of the bars and breweries cater to younger crowds, but there are few places for seniors.
“There isn’t much love for the senior citizens, so we want to do something for them,” Barajas said.
The whole process, while stressful, moved forward throughout the winter. But everything changed when the coronavirus pandemic began to spread around the globe.
Jose Barajas began to notice the gravity of the situation when clients who had asked him to make a wedding cake for a 100-plus event canceled. Stevie Barajas saw a many of her former friends and coworkers lose their jobs as bars and restaurants shut down.
“Watching things close down is the most heartbreaking thing I have ever seen,” Stevie said.
The family was left to figure out how to open a business amid a pandemic, while other businesses around the state were ordered to close.
Securing a loan was a challenge, but they eventually got one. The city’s permitting process has taken much longer than expected because of new safety requirements. And none of the state and federal business aid is available to them.
The focus is on already existing businesses, not new ones.
Fundraising was also tricky from an ethical standpoint.
Originally, the Barajas family wanted to launch a kickstarter campaign in March. However, it didn’t feel right to ask people for money when so many were losing their jobs. They thought about launching it again in June, but civil unrest over the killing of George Floyd raged, and it didn’t seem appropriate to fundraise then, either.
So, the family launched their kickstarter in July. So far, they’ve raised $7,000 toward their $23,000 goal. The money will be used to help cover initial startup costs and give them a cushion.
Despite these challenges, the entrepreneurial trio remain upbeat, thanks to support they’ve received from their family and the community.
They said they hope to have the bakery and café open by November.
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