Since the day they were born just over 25 years ago, the only life twin sisters Tiffany and Eileen Gomez have known is their life at Vito’s Bakery in Virginia Gardens.
Vito Gomez, who opened the bakery in the Virginia Gardens Shopping Plaza, 3934 Curtiss Pkwy., 25 years ago this month, was helping care for two new-born twins at the time, born just three months earlier.
When their mom passed away, the girls were still only 4, so their life growing up literally became being around their father at the bakery every day. From playing games of hide and seek in the back as toddlers, to eventually helping out around the store as they moved into their teen years, Vito’s Bakery was their life.
So when their dad, Vito Gomez, passed away last January at the age of 83, selling off the business and turning it over to somebody else was never an option.
No, even at the still fairly young age of 25, Eileen and Tiffany Gomez, along with long-time store manager Susanna Manjarres, who they refer to as “their sister,” decided they would not let what their father had worked so hard to build simply be sold off to strangers.
“No, absolutely never,” Tiffany said when asked if she and her sister were tempted to just sell it off after his death. “Our father worked so hard at this bakery to make it a success and invested so much of his life, we felt like how can we possibly give up something that he worked so hard to keep. We chose to keep the store, run it and really want to continue on the family name and make him proud. Hopefully he’s looking down on us and he’s proud.”
Of course saying it is one thing. Actually doing it and learning how to deal with the everyday nuances of running a business and making decisions? That has been the biggest challenge.
“From growing up around the business, we more or less knew the general things,” said Tiffany. “But learning all of the rules, the permits, the legal things, basically the business end of things, that’s been a little bit hard but we’re getting there and learning on the fly. I’ve taken a few classes at FIU in hospitality and mixing what we’re learning in school and what our dad taught us, we’ll be OK.”
“The challenge has been pretty much everything,” said Eileen. “Not only on the the business end but also just working it. Just being here for all of the hours, it’s a lot of work but we wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a lot of work but I’m proud of the fact that my father was a very hard worker and that my sister and I have been able to carry on his name and memory.”
Tiffany said that while it was hardly your normal childhood spending so much time around their father’s business, she and Eileen wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“Growing up, for my sister and me, it was more like a playground than anything else,” said Tiffany. “We were small, and after our mother passed away when we were little, he would bring us to the bakery and we would play around all day while he was working. As we got older, then we started helping out by preparing sandwiches and stuff in the back.”
Once they reached 16, it was time to put them out in front and the girls began working the front counter and help serve the customers, gradually being given more and more responsibility. Right there at their side was Manjarres, who arrived at the store when they were 13, teaching them the ropes.
“They’re like sisters to me,” said Manjarres. “They were 13 when I got here, so basically I’ve watched them grow up and I know how proud their dad would be watching them do this.”
“When we were very young it was fun,” said Tiffany. “We would play games going inside the freezer and would come up with outdoor games. But once we got older, there were times I didn’t like the bakery because of how hard my father would work. He was a workaholic, always thinking of his customers, and there would be times where I’d wish my father didn’t have the bakery so we could go on vacation or spend time together and just have the life of a teenager.”
But as the girls got older, they came to really appreciate how hard their father worked.
“I really learned to fall in love with it. I could see why my father enjoyed being here because I enjoy seeing the customers here every day,” said Tiffany. “I can see why my father loved being here. Making everybody happy and feeding them was what made him happy.”
“Our dad worked so hard and there were moments when he would be so tired and we’d say, why don’t you just sell it?” said Eileen. “Enjoy your time. But he didn’t want to do that. He didn’t want the two of us to work. Even though we would help him, he was always saying like the two of you need to study, get a career and I’ll work here until I can’t anymore. He was an amazing man.”
And, sure enough, virtually right up until the time he passed away last January, Vito Gomez was there. Unlocking the doors at 4 a.m. and knocking out another batch of pastelitos and loaves of Cuban bread.
One of those who was a regular almost every morning was Virginia Gardens councilman Jorge Arce.
“I was very happy to see the girls going forward with the bakery and making improvements,” said Arce. “Vito’s Bakery is and always has been a place where we socialize over a cortadito or cafecito and I really enjoy my visits there, always running into a resident or a friend to have a short chat. I’ve watched those girls grow up into young women around that bakery and I know their father would be very proud of them for what they’re doing.”
Tiffany stated that the idea is to also upgrade and modernize the bakery a little bit.
“The idea is to upgrade the menu and do some remodeling to really make things nice for our customers, many of whom are like family to us,” said Tiffany. “But at the same time, we’ll keep much of it the same because we still want to make sure it remains Vito’s Bakery.”