Milwaukee's Lopez Bakery built on tradition, surviving pandemic

If you want to build something that stands the test of time, take a lesson from Lopez Bakery & Restaurant on Milwaukee’s south side (1100 W. Historic Mitchell Street).

Owners Jorge and Cynthia Lopez inherited the business from Jorge’s father; Jose. He still makes it a point to stop by and say hello to his son. He launched the brand in 1973.

"There’s a debate that we have some of the best conchas," explained owner Jorge Lopez. "The recipes are all from my dad. He brought those recipes from Mexico."

Their fresh products are also found in area farmers' markets. They are known for their tamales and delicious Mexican sweetbreads, especially their conchas

"Conchas are sponge breads, you know, sweet egg dough buns with a cookie topping," Jorge explained. "We make everything fresh."

Greeting you as you walk in are friendly faces and a display case that can make anyone salivate. Beyond the decorative walls and tabletops is the kitchen – the place where simple ingredients transform into pastries and savory dishes.

"I don’t really use mixes or bases. Everything is made by hand stretched out, rolled out," Jorge said. 

Jorge and Cynthia Lopez

Jorge and Cynthia Lopez

Their way of doing things may not be the easiest or the most profitable. But it is what sets them apart. Customers can’t get enough.

"Nothing frozen. Nothing cooked two days before. Everything is fresh," a customer waiting for their meal told FOX6 News.  "It’s love. You feel it as soon as you walk into the door."

"Love" appears to be the secret ingredient that flows at every corner of this establishment. After all, it is "love" that keeps it running. Jorge and Cynthia are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. They are both walking encyclopedias of the city’s south side.

"We met at a birthday party," owner Cynthia Lopez explained. "I was born and raised on the south side. This is my community, and I’ll never let it go."

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They are partners in life and in business who share an upbringing in the Mexican culture. They took over operations in 2012. Jorge grew up with the bakery, while Cynthia married into the business.

"I didn’t know how we were going to get along working side by side," Cynthia said.

After four decades, it is safe to say Lopez Bakery has seen it all.

"2020 was a nightmare. It literally was," Jorge said.

However, the pandemic was a game-changer for them.

Cynthia admits the pressure they faced was overwhelming.

"Are we going to close? Are we going to lose the business?" Cynthia wondered.

Their biggest concern was the well-being of their employees.

"It was crazy! Crazy, sad, scary, every emotion you can think of," Cynthia said. "So many people came out to help us."

Cynthia Lopez

Cynthia Lopez

Like sweet superheroes, their network of loyal customers stepped up – some traveling far and wide.

"These are people from our farmers' markets -- Brookfield, West Allis, Bay View," Cynthia said.

Through the hardest of times, they never changed their ways of doing things.

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"It’s rare. That’s why I like this place," another customer told FOX6 News. "It brings back childhood memories of being at home with some fresh authentic made with love, food."

Thanks to the generosity of their customers, the business weathered the storm.

"I love my customers. I do – and I thank them for everything they’ve done," Cynthia said.

Now, they are a few years shy of celebrating their 50th anniversary,

"Customers appreciate a hello and a smile. Something like that simple goes a long way," Jorge said.

Money, of course, is the reason for any business to stay in operation. But to keep your doors open for decades clearly requires so much more -- a foundation as sweet as their pastries -- one sure to stand the test of time.

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