Antonio and Gelasia Cao fell in love in a bakery in Cuba more than 50 years ago.
They’ve since hung up their aprons, but not before building a family as well as a South Florida legacy: Vicky Bakery.
This year marks the iconic pastry shop’s 40th anniversary of hand-making flaky pastelitos filled with guava and cheese, golden croquetas stuffed with savory ham and moist cakes topped with fluffy meringue.
Vicky Bakery started with just one location. Now, three generations of Caos run 11 bakeries across Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The two flagship locations are in Hialeah, and there are now three bakeries.
“They have traditional Cuban food, and I’ve grown up with it,” said Johan Perez, 35, before ordering two boxes of pastelitos to bring to an office potluck.
It all started in a pastry shop in Cardenas, Cuba. Antonio was a pastry chef; Gelasia was a cashier.
“When I saw her, I fell in love. But she never paid me any attention,” Antonio said. “I was crazy for her to notice me.”
It took three years, but Gelasia finally took notice — the love notes that Antonio left her every day helped. The two dated for a matter of months before getting married in 1961.
They came to the US in 1968 with their two children (they would have two more.) Antonio worked three jobs at local bakeries and cantinas and Gelasia made leather products. Within one year, they had scraped together enough money to buy their first bakery.
It was called Mercedes Bakery and it was in front of Miami Jackson Senior High School. The business took off thanks, in part, to a stolen cake. Lunching students swiped the 100-person cake before the couple could deliver it.
But it was so good, that Gelasia said the bandits fessed up by complimenting the bakers on how scrumptious it was.
“So that’s how it started. Their mothers would all come,” she said.
But soon the bakery burned down. The Caos bought another bakery on Hialeah’s famed West 49th Street, but it didn’t fare as well and closed down.
Then, in 1972, Vicky Bakery went up for sale.
“The owners wanted to separate and sell it,” Gelasia said. “We passed by there and my husband loved the place. It was very small, but we were starting and for us in that moment, it was good.”
The name stayed, despite the fact there was no “Vicky” in the family — at least until their first granddaughter came along, and was named after the shop. Antonio began cranking out his pastelitos once again, using a closely-guarded recipe he learned in Cuba.
“I started making pastries here the way I made them in Cuba, and they’ve been incredibly successful,” Antonio said. “To this day, we haven’t changed the recipe. And to this day, it continues to be one of the better pastries that my clients say they have eaten.”
The Cao children all grew up in the bakery. They mopped the floors, scrubbed the pans and shoveled pastelitos into a hot oven at the break of dawn.
Pedro Cao said he didn’t catch any flak from his friends for being a baker.
“I remember being a kid, I was playing baseball, and when I would go up to bat they used to call me ‘pastelito,’” Pedro remembered. “But it was something nice, because they really liked the pastries and everybody got to know us in Hialeah.”