Founded in 1915, La Segunda Central Bakery in Tampa’s Ybor City has stood the test of time. Will expanding its reach dilute the brand or take it to new heights?
Producing some 18,000 loaves per day, La Segunda Central Bakery is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of Cuban bread.
Founded in 1915 in Ybor City, Tampa’s historic Cuban district, the company is now in the hands of a fourth-generation descendant of founder Juan Moré, an immigrant from Spain who fought in the Spanish-American War in Cuba and developed an affinity for the island’s unique, crusty bread.
Wholesale operations account for about 75% of the company’s revenue, says Copeland More, 38, who now runs La Segunda. The younger More took over from his father, Anthony More, who at 75 remains actively involved in the business.
But “you can’t grow without risk,” says Copeland More, who has engineered a major strategy shift for the company into the retail bakery-café space.
Retail example one: on July 18, La Segunda Bakery & Café opened for business at 4015 W. Kennedy Blvd., a high-traffic location in south Tampa that should make for an ideal lunch spot in the bustling Westshore business district.
The Mores spent about $800,000 to open the bakery café and hired three new full-time bakers along with 25 other employees to perform retail operations like running the coffee bar, taking food orders and cleaning. Copeland More is bullish on the café’s prospects, projecting it will generate $1.2-$1.6 million in revenue in its first year of business. Company officials decline to disclose specific revenue figures for the business.
More says he “wasn’t in love” with the prospective new location — which is right next to another lunch spot, The Metro Diner — at first, fearing it was too big. But having grown up in south Tampa, he was familiar with the local demographics and believed it would behoove La Segunda to make a move into the area. Not only is it a tactical effort to extend the brand, it’s also a long-term strategic initiative.
“There’s more growth potential in a retail, fast-casual concept,” More says. “There are only so many restaurants in the world that have an actual Cuban sandwich on their menu.”
One of those restaurants is The Columbia — the oldest restaurant in Florida known for its iconic “1905” salad and Cuban sandwich featuring freshly baked La Segunda bread. Owned and operated for generations by the Gonzmart family, The Columbia has multiple locations, including Ybor City, around the Tampa Bay area as well as restaurants in Sarasota, St. Augustine and Orlando. La Segunda’s bread is also featured in other Gonzmart Restaurant Group properties, including Ulele in Tampa and Café Con Leche in Ybor City.
The two companies and the families who run them have much in common. Like La Segunda, the Gonzmart Restaurant Group is operated by a fourth-generation scion, Richard Gonzmart, who refers to himself not as president or CEO but “caretaker” of the family business.
“The More family and my family have been friends and business partners for more than 100 years, ever since the bakery opened in Ybor City in 1915,” says Gonzmart, 65. “We serve it at all seven of our Columbia restaurants. It’s a relationship that has made us both world famous.”
More says the secret to La Segunda’s success can be found in the recipes and manufacturing methods it uses to ensure consistent quality of its products. The recipe for the bakery’s signature Cuban bread is “real simple,” says More, but the deliberately slow process, similar to how sourdough bread is made, is where La Segunda stands apart from the competition.
“There are other bakeries who do it but they’ll try to cut a corner here and there, whereas our bread is really slow-developing — it takes a lot of time to make, and every loaf is rolled by hand," he says. "The larger bakeries are going fully automated and for them, the slower the process is, the less money they make, so they want the bread in and out as fast as possible. We have to have at least eight to 10 hours to make it or else it’s not going to have the right flavor.”
La Segunda also separates itself from the pack by baking its Cuban bread the traditional way, with a fresh palmetto leaf placed across the top of the shaped dough to seal in the moisture before the loaves are hit with air from high-powered fans to harden the crust prior to baking. Customers who pick up a loaf to take home from the bakery are presented with a package neatly tied with the very same palmetto leaf used to perfect the bread.
Copeland More isn’t worried about diluting the La Segunda brand by branching out with new ventures. “There’s been a lot of thought and time put into this,” he says. “Of course, it’s a risk; opening any business is a risk, and the restaurant business is extremely risky as it is, but we feel we got lucky with this location, and we like the tenant mix; the ingress and egress is great, and the parking is sufficient.”
The company plans to keep payroll costs down at the new bakery café by being open only for breakfast and lunch, and closing at 3 p.m. "We’re not a dinner spot,” says More.
The family-friendly operating hours are being used as a recruiting tool, much like east Manatee County-baaed First Watch does with its locations, which all have similar breakfast-brunch-lunch hours. “You can come work here, get home and pick up your kids from school," More says. "A lot of [the staff], through their feedback, they really appreciate it. They feel like it’s an added benefit. So we’re going to test it here and see what happens.”
The Ybor manufacturing location, conversely, operates nearly 24/7 to keep up with wholesale demand. Of the 75 staff members there, 38 are bakers who work long, early-morning hours — which makes finding and retaining talent a major challenge, More says. But those who make the cut find ways to keep their shifts interesting.
“Some of the guys, they’re competitive,” More says. “One master baker, he’ll throw a good mix and his bread will be beautiful, and so the next master baker will ask him how he did it, and he may or may not tell him the whole truth. But for the most part, they do a real good job of helping each other, and we do try to standardize the processes and training.”
More says some of the master bakers have been at La Segunda for most of their professional lives. That makes extracting and distilling their vast amounts of institutional knowledge another HR and training challenge to overcome, especially because the bread is now being produced in two locations. “Basically, our plant manager has conversations with [the master bakers] and translates” their knowledge “so we can translate it back to new people and say, ‘This is how we’re going to learn,'" More says. "But you know, you can’t put everything on paper — a lot of it is just touch with these guys.”
More says demand for Cuban bread has “gone way up” in recent years. “People want to be different, and restaurants want to have niche, specialty things, and the Cuban sandwich has become one of those things that has really opened up new markets.”
Beef O’Brady’s, for example, is a large restaurant chain that carries a Cuban sandwich on its menu, and guess who supplies its Cuban bread? That’s right — La Segunda. To get its bread where it needs to go, More says the company works with major distributors like Cisco, Gordon Foods, US Foods and, closer to home, the Punta Gorda facility for Cheney Brothers.
But whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of confusing a Tampa Cuban sandwich with a Miami Cuban.
“Never, never,” says More when asked if he would consider expanding into south Florida. “We sell more bread in Alaska than we do Miami. It’s a different culture. There’s Tampa Cubans and then there’s Miami Cubans — it’s a giant battle, constantly. They have Miami-style Cuban bread, and they don’t put salami on their sandwiches. People come to our bakery from Miami and they get very upset because our offerings are different. They say, ‘This isn’t a Cuban bakery,’ and we say, ‘We’re not a Cuban bakery; we’re an Ybor bakery.’”
(This story was updated to reflect the correct spelling of Juan Moré and the official name of the La Segunda Bakery & Café.)