The effects of the pandemic still linger for restaurants, but Carlos Hernandez, owner of Heavenly Bakery in Hollister, says that business has been good, in part because more and more people who are moving into the area are discovering his breakfast and lunch menus, keeping his dining room full and busy.
“I learned that you do not have to have a big menu,” he said. “All you need is to have a menu with all the flavors, and you have to come up with a good product. All of our food is made with love, and my customers can taste the difference.”
The menu is, in part, a collaboration with the employees, and Hernandez says everything is sampled by everyone as new dishes are being created.
“Everything we do, we try before it goes to the customer,” he said. “We all have to agree that it is good. My co-workers and employees have the freedom to ask, ‘How can I make it better?’ And if they propose things, we’ll taste it, and if it’s better, we will change it.”
Recently, two Mexican favorites, chilaquiles and chile verde, have been added and are proving to be very popular.
“These are made in an old-fashioned way,” he said. “I use the sauces that my mother taught me, and nothing comes out of a can.”
Heavenly Bakery is also producing some special items that are available only at their parklet during the Farmer’s Market, like bacon jalapeno bread, cream cheese jalapeno baguettes, and authentic Italian cannoli with a San Benito twist, which Hernandez is considering adding to the bakery’s regular menu.
“We wanted to add B&R Farms apricots to make them local,” he said. “When I used to work at the City House, the owner kept talking about the apricots here, and tasting them made me appreciate how good they are here. Their flavor is the best.”
There are still a few bumps along the way, though, as the store adjusts to a post-pandemic economy, according to Hernandez.
“Some of the producers are not carrying the same items they used to,” he said. “We have to constantly be adapting things. We are playing with different products to make it work, and it can be a challenge.”
Some good news is that food prices for some of the bakery’s staples have stabilized and, in some cases, have gone down.
“Eggs were really high,” he said. “They almost went through the roof at $100 a case when we used to get them for $18. They went back to normal for a little while, and now they are $37, which is better than $100. But things are running smoother.”
Since almost everything the bakery makes requires eggs, Hernandez said that, for a while, the bakery was taking the losses because he did not want to raise his prices.
“I did not want to make a big deal about it,” he said. “I wanted to keep my customers happy, even if it was, for a time, a bit harder. But some places are still very slow, and we are doing well and keeping up our sales, so that tells me our customers appreciated it.”
The small-town atmosphere was very apparent during the interview with Hernandez, as several customers came to our table to say “hello” or “goodbye” to him as we talked.
“It is like it is a family here,” he said. “When people come in for breakfast or lunch, it is almost like coming into their own house. It is a relationship we have with them. We try to connect to our customers. We know their lives, and they know us.”
Lunch at Heavenly Bakery
Chile Verde – “You can find this dish anywhere,” Hernandez said, “But the combination of chilis that we do—that’s what it’s gonna make a difference, and that’s what you taste in here.” This is a very mild version of chile verde made with pasilla and Anaheim chiles and a dash of jalapeno and black pepper to give it a kick. Hernandez said it took about a month of trial and error to get the right balance, wanting something to highlight the taste of the meat and the tomatillos without overwhelming it with too much heat. “My tastes are changing,” he said. “I want to enjoy the spices, but I also need to enjoy the flavor of the food. So I am lowering the heat and leaving just a nice warm aftertaste.” The meat is tender, cooked just to the point where it retains some tooth without just melting in your mouth. And the sauce really highlights the meat, as intended, with a distinct citrus-line sourness contrasting the deep pepper tones. This is a perfect breakfast offering served with fried potatoes, refried beans, tortillas and a fried egg. Highly recommended.
Chilaquiles – This classic dish of tortilla chips in a spicy red sauce is served with refried beans and a fried egg. “In Mexico, we put the chilis on the roof and dry them in the sun,” Hernandez said. “So I dry them myself to make the sauce just to keep that kind of flavor.” The brick-red sauce is made with guajillo, arbol, and pasillo chilies, which provide much deeper—and warmer—tones than those in the chile verde. While not seriously toasting your taste buds, there is still a decent amount of heat that you can feel going as it goes down. “I am happy with the spice level on this one,” he said. “This is Mexican food and should be a little bit spicy. There has to be some heat to it in order for it to taste authentic.” Where the chili verde is more like a spring day, the chilaquiles are much more grounded and serious. It rates a low medium on my heat scale and I was still able to taste the complexity of the ingredients through the burn.
Chicken Artichoke Sandwich – One of the most popular sandwiches on the menu, thinly sliced chicken cutlets are pan-fried to a golden brown, layered with marinated artichoke hearts and swiss cheese, then served with house aioli on ciabatta bread. Everything about this sandwich works. The house-made ciabatta bread is spectacular, marrying a husky olive-oil flavor to a crispy, chewy crust. (Hernandez also makes this bread for Paine’s Restaurant.) The chicken has been seasoned with salt and pepper only, just enough to flavor harmonize the other ingredients without getting lost. How good is this sandwich? I have never been a fan of artichokes but I would order this any day of the week. To me, this is delicious from the first bite to the last and is a must-try.
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BenitoLink thanks our underwriters, Hollister Super and Windmill Market, for helping to expand the Eat, Drink, Savor series and give our readers the stories that interest them. Hollister Super (two stores in Hollister) and Windmill Market (in San Juan Bautista) support reporting on the inspired and creative people behind the many delicious food and drink products made in San Benito County. All editorial decisions are made by BenitoLink.