It’s a very Tampa experience to brush the confetti of crumbs off your lap after demolishing a Cuban sandwich or a guava cheese turnover.
If you’ve done it sometime in the last century, you might have La Segunda Central Bakery to thank.
In a 10,000-square-foot building on Fifteenth Street, around the clock and seven days a week, workers bake loaves from the same recipe used since 1915 — crispier than soft bread you’d find in Miami, with a paper-thin, flaky crust.
The Ybor City bakery’s ovens can pump out 20,000 handmade loaves in 24 hours. The bread is sent to local restaurants, like the Columbia and La Teresita. Thousands of loaves are frozen and shipped across the country on Sysco and Gordon Food trucks, some traveling as far as Alaska.
La Segunda’s legacy stretches back four generations and across multiple bakeries. This summer, the company is celebrating 105 years.
How did it last so long? And what makes this bread so special?
The story starts with Juan Moré, a Spaniard from the Catalonia region who traveled to Cuba to fight in the Spanish-American War. He stuck around and learned how to bake Cuban bread before making his way to Florida.
Around the beginning of the first World War, Moré joined a co-op of bakers and cigar makers to open three bakeries in the Cuban neighborhood of Ybor City.
The first, La Primera, burned down in the 1950s. The third, La Tercera, went out of business. But La Segunda survived.
When Moré started the business, Ybor was in the midst of a boom. A third of the city’s payroll was going to skilled workers at cigar factories.
“The Latin community, the immigrants, were just as prosperous as everybody else,” said Andy Huse, a librarian with the University of South Florida’s Special Collections.
“Everybody made Cuban bread if you wanted to survive — not only because there’s so many Cubans here, but they set the tone here in Tampa in so many ways.”
All the bakeries delivered back then, going door to door by horse-drawn wagons or trucks, Huse said. Every morning, families would wake up to fresh, yard-long loaves hung on nails by their front doors.
A traditional Cuban breakfast followed — café con leche and Cuban toast smeared with butter. More bread came at lunch, likely a sandwich, and dinner, where a loaf was as ever-present as black beans.
Moré passed the bakery onto his sons, Anthony and Raymond. Then their sons, named Tony and Raymond, took over. Tony Jr. grew up hearing stories about the early days.
All the kids worked in the bakery, taking care of horses that pulled the bread carts, making deliveries, doing the accounting.
“It was only family, with no outsiders involved,” said Tony, now 77.
Tony got a doctorate in chemistry instead of going right into the business. He later joined full-time when his father asked for help.
He spent over four decades there, adding pastries and a deli counter. Now retired, he still comes in for a bite to eat, to help out and see familiar faces.
“A lot of the people who have been working there have been there 20, 30 years,” he said. ”It’s more like a family than it is a job.”
Tony’s son, Copeland, remembers making cookie boxes as a kid and sneaking pastries out of the showcases. Copeland took over as president a little over a decade ago.
“For us, the bakery is just like a way of life,” he said. “When we were children, it was just all hands on deck when we needed it to be.”
Machines help to mix the dough now, but loaves are still rolled and placed in the oven by hand in a sweltering building with no air conditioning.
The signature piece: a palmetto leaf that scores the top of each loaf. Some say the frond was added by bakers dealing with the oven’s uneven heat. They’d watch for a scorched leaf to see when it was time to rotate the loaves.
“I’ve heard people almost come to fisticuffs,” said historian Gary Mormino of the debated story. “Some believe it gives it that texture on top.”
Summers are typically a slow season at La Segunda. This year is worse due to the pandemic.
Lockdowns across the country brought the wholesale side to a grinding halt, Copeland said, and that’s what had driven the business for many years.
“Things really shifted to the retail side to carry our load,” said Copeland, who took over the business right after the financial crisis of 2008.
“That was really like a blip in the radar compared to this,” he said. “We always thought people would always need bread. They would eat Cuban sandwiches regardless of recessions or what have you.”
Despite the coronavirus, plans are being discussed to expand to another location focused on takeout. Tony has been testing new menu items, including devil crabs and empanadas.
And there’s still cause to celebrate.
The Kennedy cafe location turns 2 years old on July 23. A customer appreciation day, with $5 Cubans and other deals, will commemorate the anniversary and the company’s 105 years.
“We have evolved along the line,” Tony said, “and it’s still evolving.”
Memories of La Segunda
We asked locals to share favorite La Segunda moments. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
- “When you go in there now, how many other places in Tampa can you see a slice of Tampa life?” said historian Gary Mormino. “You see rich people, poor people, neighborhood residents, everyone taking a ticket.”
- Angela Bell Gorgei, via Facebook: “When I was young, I used to spend many weekends with my Tia Yolie (who was born and raised in Ybor City). Every Saturday, we would start our day by going to La Segunda to get fresh bread and whatever special sweet I wanted. I always chose a guava turnover. My Tia is gone now, but every time I drive by or walk in to the bakery, I see my Tia and feel like an 8-year-old girl who had no other cares in the world but picking out the perfect turnover!”
- John Patrick, via Facebook: “My grandpa would go to La Segunda every other morning and pick up fresh, hot Cuban bread. Grandma would make Cuban coffee and Cuban toast. My grandpa used a regular bowl and would dip his buttered Cuban bread into the coffee. This would be almost every morning, before he put in his teeth.”
- “It’s a good environment and it’s family,” said Sheila Pastrinostro, supervisor of pastry. “I’ve been there a long time — 46 years — and I’m 61. I have so many customers that I’ve had for years.”
- Jackie Windham Jewell, via Facebook: “My grandpa worked at the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and would bring home Cuban sandwiches from La Segunda every other week. When asked my favorite food, it was a Cuban sandwich. And by the way, it still is...we drive from Fort Myers to La Segunda every other month! And I am almost 72 years old!”
- Carlos Hernandez, via Facebook: “La Segunda Bakery to me symbolizes Tampa. When I am away from Florida, I dream about it and crave it so badly. I wish the rest of the world knew it better. The best experience for me when they made the World’s Largest Cuban Sandwich at an early Cuban Sandwich Festival at HCC Ybor campus. It showed the power and history of Tampa’s Cuban and Latin roots.”
- Leslie Anne Fuchs, via Facebook: “My daddy and I would go and pick up the Cuban bread for lunch, and we would get guava turnovers to take home. He would get an extra one to share with me as our little secret. La Segunda has been a part of the lives of four generations of my family, all Tampa natives.”
Information was used from Andy Huse’s book, The Columbia Restaurant: Celebrating a Century of History, Culture and Cuisine.
If you go
La Segunda is celebrating 105 years on Thursday with $5 Cuban sandwiches and $1 turnovers (apple, guava, guava and cheese and donuts are included). Online ordering is available at www.lasegundabakery.com.
2512 N 15th St., Ybor City
6:30 a.m. - 3 p.m. daily
4015 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa
6:30 a.m. - 3 p.m. daily