AUSTIN (KXAN) — Joe’s Bakery, a small, family-run Latino business in east Austin, is now known by people across the country. It’s just one of six restaurants in the nation this year to win a James Beard Award.
It’s one of the highest honors a restaurant can get. But for the family who owns Joe’s Bakery, the recognition isn’t what keeps them going. It’s about how they got their start and the customers that have stuck with them for six decades.
An ‘American classic’
Nearly every day, the parking lot at Joe’s Bakery is packed. Customers go in and out — some even waiting close to an hour to get a spot.
But the regulars will tell you it’s worth it, greeted by many of the same smiling faces for nearly 60 years.
“When you walk in, you can just tell it’s very family-oriented,” a customer said.
From the pastries, beans and rice to the authentic Mexican tacos, as you could guess, it took more than that to earn the James Beard Award, leading the bakery to be recognized in 2023 as a Restaurant and Chef America’s Classics winner.
‘A young boy’s dream’
Regina Estrada is one of the bakery’s owners. She doesn’t like talking about her role or being in the spotlight.
“People sometimes — just because they see my face, my name, my title — they tend to forget about, you know, the team, the family,” Estrada said.
Family is where the story of Joe’s Bakery really begins.
“My grandfather … this was a young boy’s dream that had a third, fourth-grade education,” Estrada said. “My grandmother had about a fifth or sixth-grade education.”
Estrada describes her grandfather and grandmother Joe and Paula Avila as, “the baker and the businesswoman.” That was the dynamic between the two with strong Mexican-American roots, both born in east Austin, she said.
According to Estrada, her grandfather was also a veteran.
They started selling baked goods throughout the neighborhood back in the ’30s, eventually opening this storefront in the ’60s.
“They grew up in a time … it was looked down upon to speak Spanish in school, it was looked down upon to be dark-skinned,” Estrada said. “So, the fact that they were able to … climb these barriers and climb these walls, and to continue to keep their pride and keep their sense of self, even when being told no …”
That’s at the heart of what Joe’s Bakery is: something that has kept the family going all these years, she said.
Walls filled with history
The walls inside Joe’s Bakery are filled with wedding photos over generations, photos with activists like Cesar Chavez at the restaurant and other core memories.
“Our personal history, our personal conversations, our personal — just kind of our journey … Yeah, I get emotional,” Estrada said, beginning to cry.
It’s an intimate place. And those who work at Joe’s just want its customers to feel like family, Estrada said.
“We’re not fine dining,” Estrada said. “It’s just — we love what we do.”