Customers at several South Florida Vicky Bakery stores recently noticed something different when they stopped in to their usual spots.
On the menu were more than the baked goods for which Vicky is famous, the different flavors of pastelitos, pastries, cakes and sweets (and, of course, croquetas).
This menu was larger. There was breakfast with steak and eggs. There was a sandwich section with names like the Medio Dia sandwich, the Sloppy José, plus a frita and a pan con bistec steak sandwich.
Oh, and one more thing: It wasn’t a Vicky’s anymore.
The name on marquee read Cao Bakery & Cafe, as it does at seven of what once were Vicky Bakery stores. Long time Miami residents and Vicky fans will recognize the name as the last name of the Vicky Bakery founder, Antonio Cao.
But this is a new generation of bakers.
Tony Cao, the founder’s grandson, bought out his seven Vicky Bakery stores with a partner, split off and has started his own bakeries, carrying the family name.
“We wanted a next generation bakery,” said Tony Cao, whose grandfather started baking in Cuba before immigrating to Miami. “I grew up Cuban-American, but I also got Americanized.”
Tony Cao started in his grandfather’s bakeries alongside his father, Pedro Cao, one of the founder’s four children. Tony learned the business from baking bread the traditional way to Vicky’s famous guava pastelitos and croquetas at the original store in west Hialeah. (Antonio Cao purchased that shop in 1972 already named Vicky after the original owner’s daughter.)
Tony Cao convinced a lifelong childhood friend, Carlos De Varona, that Vicky’s was prime for expansion. Together they opened seven stores in a licensing agreement with his family, including a location on Coral Way and the Palmetto Expressway in 2015 that became the top selling store in its first year.
“We want to give them credit because without them, we wouldn’t be here,” De Varona said.
But Tony wanted to go further. He wanted to bring his childhood, born and raised in Miami, into Vicky’s, fusing Cuban cuisine and American traditions — a move Cao said the original Vicky’s wasn’t willing to yet to make.
So after some tough conversations with his father, Tony Cao gave up his stake in the family company, bought out his stores and struck out with a tweaked concept: Cao Bakery & Cafe.
“I’m a bit sad he’s not going to be part of Vicky’s, but I’ll always support him,” Pedro Cao said. “I couldn’t be prouder of him. He’ll be extremely successful.”
The new menu reflects those Cuban-American influences. Bacon maduros are wrapped sweet plantains. Arroz con pollo is bundled in croqueta-like fritters. A Sloppy José is stuffed with picadillo beef. And a Medio Dia sandwich is a Media Noche-like ham and cheese pressed between guava pastelitos.
Tony Cao said Cao Bakery stores are using high quality ingredients, including meats from Sunshine Provisions for their fritas. The recipe for the pastelitos and breads come from what he’s learned at his family’s side. They will soon open a separate baking commissary in Allapattah for their stores.
“I don’t want to fix what’s not broken,” Tony Cao said. “I just want to take it up a level.”
Stores are more like Starbucks cafés with modern wood touches and wifi. Playlists strum out contemporary music and the restaurants have a fast casual feel, what Tony Cao calls “a bit nicer ambiente.”
De Varona said in their first six months as Cao Bakery, more than a quarter of their sales come from sandwiches alone. And their store in North Miami Beach, he said, cleared more than $200,000 in its first 30 days.
“Cuban is hot right now. It’s trending,” De Varona said. “It’s like a Panera concept with a South Florida feel.”
And they’re not stopping there. Cao and De Varona said they plan to expand into Central Florida and the Southeast. They have leases signed to open seven more stores in the next nine months, including three in Broward. A location in Fort Lauderdale opens June 3.
For those newcomers who stumble over the name — it’s pronounced cow — Cao says just think of it as an acronym for Cuban American Originals.
“My purpose is this — build my family’s legacy even more,” Tony Cao said. “I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.”
Cao Bakery & Cafe
Address: Multiple locations including 7830 Coral Way, Miami
More info: CaoBakeryCafe.com