The Blue Door Bakery Will Never Close Again
By Jesús Aguado
The precious memories that baker Don Basiliso Ortiz has from La Colmena Bakery include those of working 18 hours in a row. Memories also remain of the time when there were just three bakeries in town for both the rural and urban areas. The work was hard, but it was profitable (more than now).
For 115 years, La Colmena had never closed its doors—not even during the funeral of Don Toño Rayas or his wife Bernardina, who brought the bakery back to the Rayas family. Then, on November 24, the bakery did close its blue doors because it did not meet several requirements of the Secretariat of Public Health.
Reconstructing the History
In 1901 Don Florencio Rayas, who knew how to bake bread, decided to open a small bakery in town. His business succeeded from the beginning and now is considered one of the oldest businesses in San Miguel de Allende. It is believed that the bakery could have opened 10 or 15 years earlier than 1901.
Toño Rayas, Don Florencio’s son, is the current administrator of the bakery. In an interview with Atención, he not only showed us the facilities but also conceded that La Colmena has had several issues in the past but was recovered by the Rayas family after some decades.
Florencio Rayas, Toño’s great grandfather, had two sons: José and Antonio Rayas Gutiérrez. Documents recovered by city historian Graciela Cruz prove that Florencio Rayas died in early 1930. However, the bakery was not inherited by his sons Antonio or José. It is known now that Florencio’s brother José came to town to reopen the bakery. In a document submitted to the local authorities, he let them know that he came to reopen “the family business” after not finding a job. However, the bakers’ union in old San Miguel Allende opposed this move. After a legal process lasting two months, authorities granted the opening. According to Toño Rayas, that is the only time in the records that La Colmena closed its doors.
José Rayas passed away in the early ’40s and left the bakery to his daughter Luz María. At the same time, Toño Rayas’ grandfather was operating a bakery in Querétaro. It is unknown how, but Luz María died in the same decade. Her son Manuel, a very young man, took control of the bakery, but according to Rayas, “He was not interested in running the bakery. He invested his time in looking for hidden treasures in the house; he did not find any. He got tired and sold La Colmena.”
In 1960 Toño Rayas’ grandfather came to San Miguel Allende. He lived on calle Hospicio with his wife Bernardina and was a worker at the bakery. “Somehow he started buying the bakery, and he returned it to the family,” said Toño. When Rayas passed away, Bernardina took control of it in1984, and she diversified the products and widened the facilities to provide a better service. She was helped by her son Antonio Rayas. Then the bakery had its second golden age.
Currently, La Colmena is administrated by Toño Rayas, son of Toño and Bernardina, and his son, Toño Rayas. Their names have been in the family for four generations.
Why Did La Colmena Close Its Doors?
“We have always been very transparent, and everybody can know why we closed. Also, people can also see our facilities and the process through the glass while we are baking the bread,” said Rayas. On Wednesday, November 24, inspectors from the Sanitary Jurisdiction went to La Colmena to inspect and determine whether the bakery was fulfilling the law. “The floor needed to be repaired, we needed to improve our lighting, and we also needed to get rid of an artisanal table that we have had for 80 years,” commented Rayas. At the end of the inspection, the Secretariat of Health representatives decided that the placed needed to be temporarily closed until they met the requirements.
In his favor, Rayas also said that in November this year, chef Enrique Olvera (owner of Pujol Restaurant, Mexico City, 1976) visited the bakery to learn how to make pan de muerto. “I believe that if our conditions were not healthy, he would not put his prestige at risk,” remarked Rayas. He also said, “Currently nobody has gotten sick from eating our bread.”
The bakery met the requirements of the Sanitary Jurisdiction, and La Colmena reopened the blue doors again on December 7. Sanmiguelenses showed respect and support not just for the bakery, but for the family, and the Rayas family is very thankful for that. Toño stated that the love shown by the clients and friends is the ignition that will move them to keep working and improving their products, “and I promise that the bakery will never close again. All our clients and friends will always have our bread on their table from now on.”
44 years At Reloj 19
Don Basiliso Ortiz started working at the bakery when he was 18 (in 1972). Although soon he will be allowed to retire legally, and there is too much to do at home, he knows that he will keep working as much as he can. When the bakery was closed on Wednesday, November 19, he grumbled, “I have been here too many years. My love towards the bakery and the family is immense. I felt sad and nostalgic because the bakery had never closed before, not even when the great parents died. The funeral was here at the house, but we kept working as normal,” he remembered.
Ortiz is in charge of making and baking the small bread pieces. He remembers that 44 years ago, when he started working, there were just three bakeries in town, and they were not enough to supply the bread to the families, especially during Holy Week.
In the files of Atención, there is an article on La Colmena, published on May 25, 1984. Since then the doors have been blue, and it was known as “The Blue Door Bakery.” Here we are reproducing the complete article:
Bolillos still cost two pesos each in San Miguel, although in other parts of the Republic they cost four and six pesos. In some bakeries in Mexico City they have disappeared altogether because bakers say they cannot make money charging the official government price of two pesos.
“We lose about five centavos in each bolillo,” said Antonio Rayas, manager of La Colmena bakery on Reloj, “and some customers even expect a free bag.” The loss includes the subsidy the government pays for flour. La Colmena makes up some of the loss with sales of pan dulces (sweet bread), cookies, empanadas and other kind of rolls, but still the bolillo is the undisputed best-seller of Mexican breads. La Colmena sells 26 thousand bolillos a day.
La Colmena “The Blue Door Bakery” was founded in 1900 by Antonio Rayas’ grandfather and has been in the family ever since. It employs 17 people who work from 6am–10pm.
Currently, La Colmena employs 27 people in three shifts. More than 20 thousand bolillos and pieces of sweet bread are produced daily.