Winner, 2013 Faces of Entrepreneurship Award
In the mid-2000’s, Jorge Flores worked for a company that brought stuffed animals and promotional materials from China and distributed them across the country. When the job moved from San Francisco’s East Bay area to Stockton, the 1.5 hour commute was too much. Then the owner downsized.
Meanwhile, his brother Oscar had been working for a bakery owned by his godfather. Over eight years, Oscar came to run the bakery and loved what he was doing. When his godfather passed away, the family took over, but didn’t have experience running a bakery. The problems started.
Tired of driving, in 2005 Jorge Flores sold his house and approached his brother Oscar about opening their own place. They bought a donut shop and Don Polvoron Bakery was born. Jorge would run the sales side and Oscar would run the baking. The shop was in a mostly Latino area, so instead of donuts, they catered to the local population. Instead of closing at 2:00 pm, they expanded their hours to open at 5:00 am and to close at 9:00 pm. They attracted a loyal clientele in the morning – the gardeners, construction workers, and other early risers. They wanted breakfast. Then Jorge asked them ‘what else do you need’; the answer was ‘something to eat over there.’ So Jorge added sandwiches.
The bakery became popular. In the afternoon the families came. Jorge listened to his customers who wanted him to sell other drinks besides coffee. The bakery started to sell homemade hot chocolate and Chapurrado, a traditional Mexican hot drink made of corn, milk, vanilla and cinnamon
The first two years were really hard – waking at 3:00 a.m., arriving home late and not making much profit. The worst was when a piece of equipment broke, and there were no funds to fix it. Jorge found the money somehow, even though the bank wasn’t an option because of credit issues. But the brothers worked hard. Jorge told his wife, there will be good times and bad times.
Jorge is always looking to do more. Jorge met a community-oriented woman who worked for La Raza radio station. She held a promotional event at a different place each week; Jorge offered to give away bread and coffee at their event. He still works with La Raza to help those in need. For example, he’ll donate a quinceañera cake if the parents can’t pay for a party. You work for money, but the satisfaction comes from seeing the girl’s face when she receives the cake.
Jorge still wanted to do more, do better, so he started taking cake-making classes. He learned to work with fondant, experimenting, researching on ways to improve his craft. Jorge started getting requests for cakes he never had baked. He never says ‘no I can’t’. If he doesn’t know how, he figures it out and figures it out how to do it right.
For example, he learned how to make a green dress cake. A woman came in and wanted a standing cake of her daughter’s quinceañera dress – not a flat cake of the dress, a standing cake. So Jorge figured that if he put a structure in the middle then that would help keep the shape, even if decorating was harder. He took the finished cake, worried it would fall because of its weight, to the event hall in one piece. The woman put the masterpiece on middle of the dance floor so everyone could see all the details. A week later, a framed photo arrived with a note that said “you’re part of the dress.”
“It’s the special things that you can do for people is what sets our business apart,” says Jorge.
Recently, Jorge had two such opportunities. On a Thursday, a woman came in crying because the people who were supposed to make her daughter’s quinceañera cake wouldn’t do it. The party was on Saturday with 300 guests. Jorge decided that even if he had to work all night, he can’t leave her daughter without a cake. That woman won’t go anywhere else for her bakery needs. Another Friday, Jorge was with his nephew at a party, when at 8:30pm, a man called needed a cake for a wedding on the next day. Jorge said ‘party’s over, need to go work.’ It’s easy to say no, but this is how to gain customers.
He loves to give tours of the bakery to children. When Jorge learned that one of his customers is a teacher at the kindergarten across the street, he invited the children to the bakery. The brothers showed the next generation what they do, with the hopes that maybe one or two might become a baker. The children were full of questions – why, why, why, why… Jorge said, “That day we felt like we did something from the community. We need to give back sometimes.” This year the brothers did it again, but upped their game. They bought the children aprons, bakers hats and a goodie bag. The children left as ‘certified mini-Don Polvoron bakers.’
After seven years, people know Don Polvoron. They are part of the community.
They are also part of a business alliance that supplies everything needed to host a quinceañera – limo, decorator for hall, photographer, party rentals, band, DJ, catering, and cakes. One of the members of the alliance went to a class at the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center in Redwood City. The entire group decided to attend the class.
Although he had been in business for five years, he discovered he had more to learn. He learned how to control finances, manage employees, how to treat customers better, etc… He began to see business in a different way. The Renaissance business trainer opened his eyes to see all the potential of the business.
Recently, he applied his class lessons to a situation. He was losing customers during a certain part of the day. To find out what was happening, he surveyed customers about what they want and don’t want. He learned one of his cashiers wasn’t as friendly as the customers were expecting. Instead of firing her, he asked her what the problem was. He found out that she worked in the bakery of a grocery store, making cakes and deserts and not dealing with customers. So Jorge put her in the back to bake and hired someone else to deal with the customers. Now this employee brings him more business. Renaissance showed Jorge how to turn a negative into a positive for everyone involved, the customer has better service, the woman does what she’s good at and Jorge’s bottom line improves.
Jorge says about the Renaissance classes, “It was the best thing I did for the business.” Jorge still goes to classes, because “in business you never stop learning.” That’s what he tells the new students when they ask what he’s doing there. “All of you guys have something to teach me. We can learn from other people. New people always have new ideas. If I have something it’s my open ear.”
They’ve doubled their cake business from last year. Renaissance is helping them repair their credit. Once that happens, the Flores brothers have ideas that will grow Don Polvoron and bring the bakery to a higher level. One of their dreams is to have a place to teach people who don’t have a lot of money for school on how to start a bakery business. With seven employees, a thriving cake business, and plans for expansion, now is a good time for the Flores brothers.