Laura Lechuga, the sole owner of North Denver’s Panaderia Rosales Mexican Bakery, said her plans for this Cinco de Mayo weekend with a beaming grin: “I will work.”
The bakery’s shelves are stacked high with freshly baked, intricately designed pastries available to the public fifteen hours a day, seven days a week. Neighbors need only step outside their front door and smell the fresh dough and toasted sugar swirling through the air, wafting from Panaderia Rosales like an invitation to come in and find what’s inside.
The cozy little bakery on West 32nd Avenue is tucked below a bright blue sign and is as colorful and vibrant on the inside as a box full of crayons. Stacks of homemade pastries—from fresh churros and authentic conchas, to frosted cake and pumpkin empanadas—gleam behind sliding glass doors as customers struggle to make their choices.
After decades of successful years in business, it’s clear that people come from all over the Denver area to enjoy Panaderia Rosales’ best-of-the-best pastries, turning customers into regulars on the very first bite. Though the bakery’s name now proudly stands on many Denver ‘must-do’ lists, as with every small business, things were not always this way.
“On our first day of sales, we only sold $5,” Lechuga said. “We were not even sure how we were going to pay our rent.”
Back when Lechuga opened the bakery with her father nearly 50 years ago, she endured the struggles and growing pains that every small business owner faces at the start.
“My dad told me that I had to be patient, that we just had to work at it and we would get there,” she said. “But for me, I just wanted everything to happen, like right now.”
Her father began recreating the pastries he sold at his original bakery back in Mexico. He wanted people to walk in and “feel happy to see something they saw back home,” to mirror his own love for baking and the sense of warm nostalgia it brought into his own life.
“Slowly, we built the bakery. We used to have only one showcase, where we would just put out our most popular items from my dad’s bakery in Mexico.”
Being the businessman that he was, Lechuga’s father made minor adjustments to some of the recipes that he felt would bring in more people from the surrounding area. Rosales Panaderia began preparing selections of both cream-filled and classic Mexican desserts that people soon fell in love with.
“Most people here, when they ask for a pastry, they expect it to be filled,” Lechuga said. “But in Mexico, it’s not very popular to have them filled because it is more expensive, especially when they are buying one or two pieces for each member of the family. They don’t want to spend a lot. But here, it’s the other way around. You don’t have a lot of kids. You have maybe one or two kids, and they want something that is the best.”
Lechuga learned from her father not only how to bake, but also how to run a business. After she graduated from Regis University, Lechuga began running the financial side of the bakery while also working a job with the IRS. In 1992, she took over Panaderia Rosales and became the sole owner after her father passed.
“We of course weren’t planning on losing him. So, we didn’t have the recipes written down. And my dad used to bake like this: do a handful of this, and a handful of that…but it would always come out,” Lechuga said. “He taught several of my cousins how to bake, because, in my house, there were all girls. And he didn’t think us girls would make good bakers because in Mexico, it’s mostly men. Men are the ones who dominate the field. My dad told me, ‘You can clean, you can sweep, you can do whatever. But this is not your spot.’”
However, her father was a teacher at heart, and “loved to teach anybody who wanted to learn. He wanted to teach them. And nowadays, people don’t have that kind of patience, especially with baking.”
His patience undoubtedly paid off for the generations ahead, as Panaderia Rosales nears its 50th Cinco de Mayo. When asked if her family had any special Cinco de Mayo traditions, she said, “we work.”
“My dad used to like a lot of family time, and sometimes, after closing, we would make a barbecue in the back, or just take it easy with the family. But mostly, we would work,” Lechuga said. The bakery is stocked with tres leches cakes, Cinco de Mayo-themed cookies, and all the usual delicious treats for one of the shop’s busiest weekends of the year.
“Just this Sunday, I was talking to a friend, and she said, ‘you shouldn’t work on Sundays anymore,’ and I said, ‘What would I do at home?’ I would just be sitting there, and I wouldn’t see my friends because they come into the bakery, even if to just say hi or have a small chat. And I just like to know that they’re well, you know.”
Lechuga admits that she struggles to take time off because she genuinely wants to be there, and loves running Panaderia Rosales and seeing the regulars who stop in daily.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love it. I can’t even explain it. Most people wouldn’t even think about putting more than 40 hours into a job, but for me, I like it.”