For Joshua Aldarondo, baking is more than a career — it’s a lifelong learning opportunity. The owner and operator of Delicias Bakery says he’d keep baking even if he wasn’t getting paid.
“I always tell my apprentices that they will want to work at the bakery for free because they will value the knowledge and experience more than the money,” Aldarondo said. “I feel really strongly this way because when I first started and I wanted to be the best, I didn’t care if they paid me. I didn’t care if I had to sleep on a bench but I wanted to be the best. I knew the money would come later.”
Aldarondo has always dreamed of making high-end pastry and baked goods available to everyone, not just the wealthy.
“I’ve always had this vision that I want to provide high-quality bread — five-star dining, like the bread we were making at The Ritz-Carlton and The Broadmoor,” he said. “I wanted to make it available to the general public, not just the people that could afford to stay at these hotels.”
Aldarondo talked with the Business Journal about his humble beginnings baking in Puerto Rico, and earning the esteemed title of Certified Master Baker.
Tell us your story.
My story begins in Puerto Rico. I’m the second one out of five children. My family always liked to cook and do big gatherings — that’s why I developed a passion for food and baking for my friends and for my grandma. Going into my last year of getting my bachelor’s in psychology, I started getting into chocolates and learning on my own, because in Puerto Rico we didn’t have a culinary school dedicated to pastry and baking. [The schools have] always been for the savory side of culinary. My last year in psychology, I started making chocolate and making edible fruit arrangements. I started having people ask me to sell my chocolates. All of a sudden it became a business that I was doing out of my house, and the passion grew a little bit more than I was planning it to. After finishing my bachelor’s in psychology, I told my parents that it was cool learning about psychology but I want to go to culinary school. Since there was no culinary school that specialized in baking and pastry, I ended up going to Orlando and attending [Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts]. I got certified in baking and pastry and from there, my first job was as a chocolatier.
After that, I got a call from The Ritz-Carlton saying that they would accept me to do an internship with them. That was after [I harassed] the executive chef of The Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida, for a few months — calling and sending emails every week asking if there was a spot. My dad always told me if you get into The Ritz that’s like going to Harvard. I was persistent until one day, the executive chef called me and said, ‘I know you’re being super persistent, so I feel like I have to give you a try and I just got this spot open at the bakery working overnight.’ I told him, ‘OK, I’ll take it if this is what gets me in.’ I even told the chef that I would work for free. I just wanted to get in and learn from the best place. I started at the lowest level and worked all the way up to be the lead baker. After being lead baker for a few months, I got a call from The Broadmoor saying that they were interested in me coming to Colorado and they wanted me to be the assistant lead baker. I performed really well. The chef that was in charge of the bakery had to leave The Broadmoor and shortly after that they offered me a position to be the executive baker of the hotel. I was the executive baker of the hotel for two or three years.
After that, the opportunity of having my own bakery came up to my hands. There was a bakery that was struggling a little bit and they asked me to come [aboard]and help them save the bakery. I told them I would buy the bakery and see where it goes. We started with two customers — those were our only accounts because we started baking as a wholesale bakery — but little by little friends of friends started calling me because we had so much variety. When I started working at the Ritz-Carlton, I had never seen so many different types of bread. I was so amazed and impressed, I developed such a huge passion for making bread. For me it’s almost magic. It’s amazing that the combination of flour and water can create so many different flavors and so many different types of bread. We’re used to buying bread in Walmart and grocery stores and we don’t go to mom and pop’s bakery to buy bread.
As soon as the opportunity came before me I jumped on it. I borrowed some money from my grandma, from my mother-in-law, from my sister until I had all the money to buy the bakery. After we opened the bakery, in Ivywild there used to be a bakery called Old School Bakery. They were doing the same type of thing, but sadly they weren’t doing too well financially. They ended up closing, so we kind of teamed up with Ivywild and we bought the whole bakery and started transferring some of the customers. They decided to continue buying from us, so our business basically doubled in size in less than a year. Now we almost have 65 to 68 accounts made up of restaurants, hotels, coffee shops and customers. It’s definitely been a journey with a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice. The thing we have going for us is that many of our customers refer our name out. They love working with us because we can make the bread just how they want it. ... We are more than happy to customize shape, size and flavor of our bread.
Where did you develop most of your baking skills?
Most of my skills come from a long time I spent with a French baker named Johan Willar. He worked with me at The Ritz- Carlton and at The Broadmoor. I definitely learned a lot from him — the good and the bad — but I think culinary school is just giving you the basics. I would say 90 to 95 percent of what you learn as a baker will be self-taught or just from wanting to learn and being hungry to put out the best product. When you have that real passion, I believe that’s what separates my products from the ones you get at Walmart.
What does it mean to be a Certified Master Baker?
Master Baker was one of my goals when I got into pastry school. The moment the chef at culinary school told me [that for] Master Chefs, there’s hundreds of them, but Certified Master Bakers — there’s only like 50 in the whole country. When he told me there were 50, I figured there was a chance I could become one of the few. I started looking for Puerto Rican master bakers and so far I haven’t been able to find one. I won’t say I’m the only one or the first — but I haven’t found one yet. It’s been a goal I’ve had in my head for 10 years. I’ve shadowed a lot of Master Chefs and become more and more interested. The more Master Bakers I was able to meet, the more possible the idea became in my head. There’s only so many in the country because it’s very difficult to pass the test. [As of 2019, there were fewer than 200 Certified Master Bakers in the United States.] Only one or two out of six or seven pass the test.
It’s a long process to be a Master Chef because first you have to get certified as a baker, then you need three years of verified experience. Next, you need to pass a written test. Once you pass the written test, you go to a culinary school where they will administer a practical test through the course of one day. That day you have to make a pie, a cake, cookies, and a Danish. It’s not too complicated, but it’s a lot of things for one baker to make in one day. On top of that they have to have the right weight after baking. You have to be within one quarter of an ounce.
I started going after Master Baker when I was at The Broadmoor. I was able to take the written test and pass it, but I was a little scared about the practical test. There were eight applicants for Master Baker and not one of them passed the test. That’s when I decided to wait one or two years to apply for Master Baker. The test for Master Baker is 100 questions — not like Master Chef — and the practical lasts two days. You have to make three types of bread, croissants, chocolate croissants, Danishes, muffins, cookies, cakes. Then for the cakes you have to cut a round cake, fill it, ice it, and decorate it in 11 minutes. The first time I did the practical, the croissants didn’t come out right. The cake also didn’t look as perfect as it should have. So I didn’t pass those two items but I was given the opportunity to remake them. I ended up becoming a Certified Master Baker two weeks ago.
How has coronavirus impacted your business?
It’s impacted us big time. It’s been a roller coaster. When COVID-19 started, we went down to 15 to 20 percent of our normal business. Once they lifted the restriction, the restaurants were doing well again. However, once we went back under restriction, sales fell by 40 or 50 percent. With winter coming in and the restrictions, it’s killing a lot of the restaurants and I don’t think many of them will be able to recover. Luckily for the bakery, we’ve tried to play it smart. We saved a lot of money since the beginning. After the first wave, we had to let go of almost all of our employees — but I’ve since hired them back.