Suárez Bakery has one heck of an origin story. If you’ve heard of the Cuban-influenced sweets mecca in Park Road Shopping Center, by now you may also have heard its infamous backstory. The popular, bustling spot that opened in the early nineties—now serving up everything from picture-worthy letter-shaped donuts to detailed custom wedding cakes—gained a whole lot of traction when the tale behind the treats ran in the presses in 2012.
Indeed, the story of the Suárez family is quite a saga, and one that’s also firmly rooted in Charlotte’s own history.
Suarez’s owner, Carlos Suarez, is the son of a freedom fighter who narrowly escaped Castro’s Cuba with his wife and their young children in tow. The patriarch of the family, Roberto, became president of The Charlotte Observer in 1972.
Carlos’ family made it to America—first Miami, then Charlotte—but it wasn’t ever an easy ride. The Suárezes went through the trials and tribulations many immigrants endure. There was a new life, new norms, new language…but they also endured unique struggles. Years after immigrating, Carlos tragically lost two of his brothers in two short weeks, which in turn escalated to their father’s decline. He finally decided to open Suárez in 1992 in what used to be the old Federal Bake Shop.
But here’s the thing: This isn’t really the whole story of Suárez bakery. It became a stand-in, the immediate association with the shop. But everyone has a past, and what Suarez is doing—and doing successfully—is sailing smoothly into a future that was built on that most traditional of foundations: blood, sweat, tears. Jesse Suárez, Carlos’ son and the head baker, explains the place as “innovation and familiarity.”
This is a family nurturing a passion in the present day, and that’s what really gets people fired up about this little slice of nostalgia headed by a man who is, simply, a wizard in the kitchen.
Carlos Sr. is a lean man with a quick grin and distinctive shaggy long locks. Like his sons, Carlos Jr. and Jesse, he is soft-spoken and careful, but more than ready to talk about anything that pertains to the shop. The rest of it? They’re all a bit reserved…and why not? The Suárez that exists today is the Suárez that deserves attention. We all want our children to grow up.
“I started working in hotel kitchens, which lead me to discovering and becoming obsessed with baking,” Carlos explains. “It was a craft that just came natural to me. And while I never intended for this to be a family business, I’m glad to be able to work with my sons on a daily basis.”
Jesse expresses a similar “je ne sais quoi” about finding himself in a family business. He grew up around the bakery, but didn’t start officially until 2008.
“Working with family can be challenging at times, but at the end of the day it’s rewarding to have a big impact on something with my name on it. As is usually the case with children joining in their family’s business, it wasn’t something I planned, but rather something I fell into.”
Carlos built a place to honor the European roots of baking, and used many of the classic American goods on the menu as an homage to the 1950s bakery that occupied the space before. It’s something of an anomaly, dishing up Cuban bread, cooking with French technique, toying with Mexican sweets and social media fodder like those pink alphabet donuts and decadent cupcakes.
“The Cuban specialties we make—like our Cuban bread, guava pastelitos, and Tres Leches cake—are things I grew up eating in Miami, and the more modern items are influenced by our young and creative team,” Carlos explains.
Suárez is a slice of nostalgia: an old-school counter service bakery that draws a dedicated crowd—the birthday cakes for the same family ordered every year, the pastry purchased with a hot cup o’ coffee eaten before work every single morning. But the bakery’s story isn’t just its past. The family, and the whole operation, is looking forward, savoring each day.