When Zaida Melendez smells the dough of Salvadoran pastries in her kitchen, it takes her back to her aunt’s bakery in El Salvador.
“I remember being a child and seeing mountains of dough,” she says. “I like the smells and feelings of being in a homey bakery.”
Soon, Melendez will welcome Worcester and the Clark community into her new bakery, hoping they’ll leave the panaderia with Salvadoran sweets and perhaps some nostalgia. Melendez is opening Belen’s Bakery in Acoustic Java’s 923 Main St. location. Acoustic Java, owned by David Fullerton, announced last week that the café would pass ownership to Melendez as he focuses on his flagship roastery on Brussels Street.
Belen’s Bakery will be a combination of cultures, boasting a variety of Salvadoran treats, like semitas and quesadillas, and American baked goods. Salvadoran quesadillas are a cheesy but sweet pastry, made with rice flour, parmesan cheese, and sour cream. Belen’s will continue selling Acoustic Java’s coffee and tea selections. Acoustic coffee is also available in the Cougar Café (formerly Jazzman’s) in the Academic Commons.
“My culture is important to me, but I also love American desserts like carrot cake and chocolate cake,” she says. “Whether you want an American muffin or a Salvadoran quesadilla, here you’ll find both.”
Initially, baking was just a hobby. Melendez worked as a respiratory therapist for 16 years at UMass Memorial Health. But the stresses of her job, intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic, inspired her to make a change.
“I realized the Central American population in Worcester has grown like crazy since I first moved here 36 years ago, and there’s still nowhere to go for fresh Salvadoran sweet breads,” she says. “So, I got brave and quit my job.”
Last spring, Melendez completed the Worcester Regional Food Hub program to help launch her business. Since then, she’s been selling cupcakes and Salvadoran pastries at festivals and pop-ups, including a recent event at the Worcester Art Museum, and makes custom cakes for clients in the Food Hub’s commercial kitchen. Clark’s Small Business Development Center helped Melendez connect with Fullerton.
Melendez, whose middle name is Belen, plans to bring in new pastry cases, paint, and add some Central American flare to the space. While pastries and cakes will be regular fixtures on the menu, Melendez plans to add seasonal items as well, like pumpkin baked goods in the fall.
Melendez hopes to open the bakery this month after receiving final inspections and approvals from the city. The bakery will likely be open Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., though those hours are subject to change. She expects to hire four employees, with help from her 23-year-old daughter Rocio. Mother and daughter took a barista class with Fullerton.
“David and Clark have been great through this transition,” Melendez says. “I’m just excited to get going.”