With parents who owned and operated an alfajor factory in Argentina, Silvia Leiva Browne was immersed in baking traditional cookies at a young age and came to the United States 21 years ago with a dream of opening her own bakery.
That dream has come true with Lolita Artisanal Bakery now open Saturdays at the Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo. This culturally representative option is a unique addition to a generally predictable storefront directory and part of the center’s goal to bring in more shoppers and keep the shopping center experience fresh.
“It’s certainly a win-win situation for everyone involved and many times offers experimental retail marketing in today’s shopping world,” said Christine Kupczak, marketing director at Hillsdale Shopping Center. “Pop-ups provide a benefit to everyone involved, the retailer, the landlord and the consumer.”
Lolita’s freshly baked Argentine alfajores come in a wide variety of flavors, they are dipped in chocolate, rolled in coconut shavings or toasted almonds; but the most popular option has a caramel textured dulce de leche filling that comes in a regular and gluten-free version. Others are covered in a sweet lavender and lemon glaze with vanilla filling and the remaining available options have a silky chocolate or sweet raspberry filling. The soft cookies that make up the top and bottom of the cookie sandwich, have a flaky texture that contrast their velvety fillings in every bite.
The bakery also offers: palmiers (elephant ears), tarts and pies that come in a variety of seasonal fruit such as apricot, peach, blackberry, cherry, apple and pear. Also lining the shelves are croissants, bread pudding, brownies, lemon bars, flavorful sweet bread that comes in flavors like cranberry tangerine and pumpkin with pepitas. There is savory Argentine empanadas that are filled with potato, peas and olives, chicken, beef, ham and cheese, mushrooms, sweet potato and bean, squash and corn and spinach and cheese.
Decorative wood shelves encompass the inside of the bakery; sitting on top of the shelves are palmiers, puff dough pastries and tarts in simple clear packaging as well as Lolita’s specialty alfajores. They currently offer three types of the cookie sandwich with sweet filling that each represent different cities in Argentina: Cordoba, Buenos Aires and Mar del Plata. Browne has plans to add at least six more varieties.
Lolita Artisanal Bakery started in Browne’s home kitchen in 2014. Her incremental business plan started from her home kitchen making a variety of Argentine treats for special events and weekend markets. As demand increased, Browne, now of Belmont, expanded into a rented commercial kitchen at KitchenTown in San Mateo. The next step to open a storefront bakery was moving into a kitchen space of their own. After three years in the San Mateo location, Browne moved into a different commercial kitchen with the support of her brother; they now both occupy a family-owned commercial cooking space in South San Francisco. This was a big leap for Browne and her bakery.
Lolita’s current storefront is adjacent to the Macy’s department store and Browne discussed her concern that this storefront does not have an oven; however, after being in business only two months she has meetings lined up with the shopping center management to solve this problem.
“They are being extremely flexible and accommodating and supportive” Browne said when talking about the shopping center’s response to her interests. “That is extremely encouraging for me.”
Browne said hers is a super small business she is trying to scale up. However, she intends on Lolita being open Friday through Sunday in the near future. In attempt to attract more small businesses, Hillsdale offers the option to stores to be open only a portion of the week.
As a woman and Latina business owner, Browne expressed her awareness of the impact her bakery has on the shopping center.
“The Latino community particularly is being empowered in a way by having us here.” Browne said, “our presence here I think is extremely meaningful.”