Surrounded by floodwaters, bread makers at Houston's El Bolillo Bakery turned out beautiful breads to share with other victims and first responders.

By Jennifer Chappell Smith
August 31, 2017
Surrounded by floodwaters, bread makers at Houston's El Bolillo Bakery turned out beautiful breads to share with first responders and other victims.
Meagan Michaelis/El Bolillo Bakery

As Hurricane Harvey rained down, El Bolillo Bakery owner Kirk Michaelis closed up shop at his Wayside location and headed home. But his loyal bakers—some of whom had shown him the secrets of Mexican bread making when he opened 21 years ago—kept working and would later find themselves trapped by chest-high flood waters.

Holed up from Friday to Sunday, head baker Jorge Abundis and three colleagues passed the time doing what they know how to do best. "They just cooked—and cooked and cooked," says Meagan Michaelis, who runs social media for the third-generation family business owned by her dad. Safe and warm inside the bakery, the bread makers turned out pan after pan of pan dulce—a sweet bread specialty at this Hispanic bakery, which has three locations around Houston.

Eventually, family members began calling the bakers with reports of water breaching their homes. Stranded, they still baked. They produced so much bread that Kirk ultimately contacted Houston police officers and asked them to pick up boxes of bread in hopes they could share it with fellow first responders and flood victims at shelters—making bread donations to anyone who needed sustenance in the wake of the storm.

But before making that charitable call, Kirk knew he had to find a way to get the bakers to safety. Once he learned of Jorge and his fellow bakers' plight last Sunday, he jumped in a Jeep and set off for the bakery. "I could hear it in their voices," Kirk says. "They wanted to get out of there." He brought them to his house, where his wife fed them dinner and washed their clothes.

"I put them in a jacuzzi and gave them a beer, but one of the guys, Javier Ponce, looked a little sad," Kirk says.

"What about my brother?" Javier asked.

Once Kirk learned that Javier's brother was at a different El Bolillo location, the owner jumped back in his saturated Jeep and retrieved Pancho Ponce and other bakers at the Pasadena, Texas, store. Turns out, that bakery crew also had spent the idle hours turning flour and water into bread that their community would desperately need.

So what did these bakers want to do once they had a good meal and clean clothes? They wanted to go back and help some more, Meagan says: "Some haven't gone home. They've been cooking nonstop. Whether it's to make money to rebuild their own lives or just to help, we can't thank them enough. They're just really great people with big hearts."

These diligent workers baked so much bread that El Bolillo's Wayside and Pasadena locations re-opened early in the week, with lines out the door as flood victims came to buy bread. "[Most of] the groceries were closed," Meagan says. "We happened to have bread."

Locals didn't want the fancier breads that El Bolillo produces. All they wanted was a plain, white loaf similar to a French baguette, called a bolillo, the bakery's namesake. It was a local contribution to the Hurricane Harvey donations coming into the area.

Today, El Bolillo delivered 500 loaves to a shelter in Pasadena after the mayor called to see if they could make a donation. Thanks to its hard-working bakers, El Bolillo had more than enough to share.

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Places like El Bolillo and Bitty & Beau's make us proud of the South. These businesses want to play an active, positve role in their communitites and help their neighbors when they can. Well done.