Eat Drink Savor

Eat, Drink, Savor: Lighthouse 55 Bakery set to close Oct. 22

The Hollister business has been a mix of faith, family and fine baking for eight years.
Carrot cupcakes. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Carrot cupcakes. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Lemon curd shortbread. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Lemon curd shortbread. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Chocolate chip cookies. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Chocolate chip cookies. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Burnt almond cupcakes. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Burnt almond cupcakes. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Lorie Rios with carrot cupcakes. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Lorie Rios with carrot cupcakes. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Missing person notice for Alex Mendoza.
Missing person notice for Alex Mendoza.

Lighthouse 55 in Hollister has been a beacon for those looking for unique wedding cakes, and birthday cakes, and finely baked goods like cookies and desserts. But after eight years, owner Lorie Rios has decided to close the bakery Oct. 22 and move it closer to where she lives in Los Banos, taking her memories with her.

“I have loved being part of my customers’ lives,” Rios, 61, said. “It is all the cakes I have made for special occasions. For some of my customers, I did their wedding cake, then a cake for their baby shower, and their child’s first birthday cake. I have done cakes for christenings and funerals, and it is an honor to be a part of all of those life events.”

It was a hard decision for Rios, but the last few years have been particularly challenging.

“I moved to Los Banos four years ago,” she said, “and I have been making the drive ever since. But then my husband Samuel had cardiac arrest twice, and I had to shut things down for a while. Then we had all the problems with COVID. We were also in a roll-over car accident, and I was often closed for doctor’s appointments. With all of that, it just seemed time to close here.”

Another problem is that her father, Alex Mendoza, went missing on July 6. “He had been living in a Los Angeles care home,” she said, “and he left there three months ago. They are still looking for him, and I feel if I stay close to home, he might show up there.”

Rios is hoping to find a place to reopen in Los Banos because, she said, baking has been her life, even though she got into the profession by chance when she was 17 and applied for a cashier position at Fry’s grocery store in Milpitas. The only open job was in the bakery, and she took it. 

“When I first started, I could not tell a raisin from a chocolate chip,” she said. “I knew nothing about the baking business. But we had this frozen product that we were supposed to prepare, and it would not rise. And I wanted to learn why it wouldn’t and what made it rise to begin with.”

She started going to scratch bakeries before her work shifts, where the baked goods were prepared from start to finish from basic ingredients.

“I would say, ‘I will take out your garbage and work for free, I just want to learn,’” she said. “I ended up getting a job at Dick’s Bakery in San Jose, at a time when all the bakers were men. Before they hired me, I had to prove I could carry 50-pound bags of flour without needing the men to help me.”

The training she got at Dick’s Bakery, particularly in acquiring the skill to make their legendary burnt almond cake, got her jobs at other renowned bakeries like Greenlee’s and Consentino’s. Wanting to learn more, she attended the French Culinary Institute in Campbell and studied under famed cake designer Toba Garrett for two years in Las Vegas.

Coming to Hollister, she worked in the SaveMart bakery (now Lucky’s) and had a steady clientele through her church, which she had cultivated by doing the baking for their events. With so many special requests to fill, particularly for her burnt almond cake, she decided it was time to open her own business.

Her faith inspired the bakery’s name, saying she wanted to be a “lighthouse to the community.” The “55” came from the year her husband was born, 1955, with a nod toward her father’s favorite number, five. She found a spot across from the San Benito County Courthouse, on 396 Fourth Street, and brought in her children to help. 

“I have four kids, and they all worked here with me,” she said. “We sometimes had grandchildren in a playpen right next to the register. We ran it as a family, then the next generation came along, and so now I have my grandchildren helping me out from time to time.”

One of her daughters, Michelle Leonard, now CEO of the San Benito Chamber of Commerce, said she thinks it’s the right time for her mother to make a change but will treasure her memories.

“As someone who loved what she made,” she said, “I am bummed to say goodbye to the storefront. It was so special to be able to work there and raise my kids there and spend time together. And I made many valuable connections and relationships during my time at the bakery. As the CEO of the Chamber, seeing a business close is heartbreaking, but I know the community benefited from your generosity and kindness.”

When asked what makes a great baker, Rios said that she tells people that the secret ingredient to baking is love.

“I have thought before about closing,” she said, “but every time a customer would come in and tell me how much they enjoyed my being here. The community would all come here and see each other here. And they always supported me when I needed it. When my husband had his cardiac, someone started a GoFundMe for the bakery, and everybody pitched in. I appreciate their love, and I am going to miss everyone terribly.”

 

Baked Goods of Lighthouse 55

Lemon Curd Cookies – These bite-sized shortbread cups holding a generous dollop of bright yellow lemon curd are my favorite item in the shop. The flavor of the curd is crisp and clean, not too acidic and not too sweet. The cups are very thin—just a shell—but crisp and buttery. These are a must-try and I strongly recommend checking them out before she closes the bakery.  I am going to miss these.

Carrot Cupcakes – “Everybody loves cream cheese frosting,” Rios said, “and the frosting really makes the cupcake.” While the cream cheese is pretty amazing—you want to just lick all of it off—I have to disagree with her and say these cupcakes would be great even without the frosting. There are no nuts in these cupcakes, which makes them safe for people with allergies. Similar to a spice cake, with cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice, the shredded carrot keeps this moist and chewy.  

Thumbprint Cookies  “I love these shortbread cookies,” she said. “I got the recipe 20 years ago from an old German baker, and it is a no-fail recipe.” This classic cookie is made with either lemon curd or homemade raspberry jam. The cookie itself is made of cake flour rather all-purpost flour which makes them crumbly and nicely textured with a subtle sweetness. There is an Old World goodness to the flavor, and you can taste the quality of every ingredient. 

Apple Tart – Made with puff pastry with sliced Granny Smith apples, garnished with crystal sugar. “The secret to puff pastry is strong arms,” Rios said. “There is a lot of muscle and my big rolling pin, which has been with me for 30 years.”  There is a rustic, homemade feel to these tarts, with the varying thicknesses of the pastry giving it different levels of crispness and chewiness. The same is true of her turnovers, where the pastry is not just a container for the fruit but a treat in itself.

 

(Lorie Rios is asking anyone who might have information about her missing father call the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department at 323-890-5500.)

 

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.

Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.