It isn’t long after walking into Joe’s Bakery that my stomach starts begging me, pleading me, to fill it with barbacoa. My stomach knows, after all, it recognizes these smells by now—these smells, how damn good they smell. I do my best to ignore my stomach’s blatant grumbling and ask for Joe’s granddaughter, Regina Estrada, who after a few seconds barges out of the kitchen, leads me to a corner table, and begins to talk.
“When my mother was growing up, they would bring her to work and she would sleep underneath the counter until it was time for her to go to school,” says Regina. Joe’s Bakery, which turned 50 this year, is home. It’s home for Regina, and it’s home for the rest of her team—her grandmother, Paula; her mother, Rose Ann and her aunt, Carolina.
If there’s something that Regina stresses while we talk about Joe’s, it’s the importance of communication. This is the restaurant business, after all, and it’s not easy. Add to that the complexity of dealing with family, and it could end in catastrophe. But through the years, the team has made it work, and Joe’s has become a staple of Austin’s east side. “I’ve always said we’re not in this to be rich,” Regina says. “We’re in this
because we love it, and the minute we stop enjoying ourselves, we’re done.”
Regina looks like a woman who runs around all day, getting things done. She looks happy. She looks content. And as we sit at Joe’s, surrounded by all the things and people she knows best, she speaks with passion—passion for family, passion for food (her favorites: chicken guisada tacos, huevos rancheros and migas) and passion for the customers that keep her so busy. “Our customers are a representation of who’s in the community, of who’s in the neighborhood,” she says. “And that’s what makes us so special, that for 50 years we have always been a meeting spot for the community. We’re not just a favorite for the old-timers; we’ve also become a favorite for the new arrivals.”
Joe’s Bakery has built a strong support system, not only in the east side, but with fellow businesses. For the restaurant’s 50th birthday party, which was celebrated at Fiesta Gardens on Sept. 24, Regina found herself overwhelmed with the realization that people were actually willing and happy to help.
“I am fortunate to have the friends that I have through the family and the business,” she says. She called up businesses she’s worked with for years, like Fiesta Tortillas and Sysco Central Texas, and other people she only knew of but was willing to ask for help, such as Andy Martinez from the Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. And she found people that actually wanted to help.
The event was important not only because it was the restaurant’s fiftieth anniversary, but because after two years since Joe’s passing, it was important for Regina to also give her grandmother some recognition. “My grandfather was the face,” she says. “But my grandmother was and still is the backbone.” The event turned out to be a huge success, and a perfect representation of Joe’s Bakery and its warm familiarity.
Regina looks around the restaurant, pointing out pictures of her grandfather on the wall. She talks about the time her grandmother cried because they had to get rid of their 40-year-old stove. She tells me about two regulars who used to show up before opening time and go in through the back door of the restaurant to have their morning coffee. Joe’s Bakery is home, and through her stories, Regina confirms Joe’s will be around for much longer.
*Photos by Mari Hernandez.