BELVUE — Drivers on US-24 highway can easily spot Loretta’s Artisanal Bakery and Cafe on the edge of this small Pottawatomie County town.
On a recent winter afternoon, the blue, pink and purple bakery and Mexican food restaurant at 507 3rd St. stood out as a bright speck against and otherwise gray sky. Owner Loretta Lopez laughed about the colors from behind the counter.
“The whole time we were painting it people would drive by looking like ‘Whoa!’ ” she said, turning her head to mimic drivers craning their necks for a view.
Lopez and her husband, Galdino, first opened the bakery in March. By June the couple had added an authentic Mexican food lunch menu, and in November Loretta’s started serving classic diner breakfast options. In 2018, she said the family business hopes to expand hours, specifically for breakfast, and add a drive-thru window. Loretta’s is currently open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. During the spring and summer, the restaurant is open until 6 p.m.
On the bakery side, Lopez said lemon bars and brownies remain popular, but she also makes a number of artisan breads, cookies and a house specialty potato bread. Before the holiday season, she baked dozens of undecorated sugar cookies that customers could ice at home with their families, an item she said was surprisingly popular.
“It’s always fun to try something and see what people like,” she said.
Menu items include eggs and biscuits and gravy for breakfast, along with classic Mexican dishes like tacos, fajitas and tortas. Galdino, originally from the Mexico City area, brought a little taste of home with pambazo, a torta featuring chorizo, potatoes, lettuce and cream cheese on her thick potato bread.
For years, Lopez has been baking for the local farmers markets around Pottawatomie County, but last year the couple decided to take the hobby a step further and start a business. The family has lived in Belvue for about 12 years, she said, and chose the location there instead of a larger community like Wamego or St. Marys to be closer to home and not stretch their budget.
With the help of Pottawatomie County Economic Development Corporation, the family got started with a $30,000 low-interest loan. Jack Allston, executive director, said while the bright blue facade may offer a silent advertisement, the bakery’s location on US-24 and few blocks from Onyx Collection Inc., a medium sized bathroom fixtures manufacture, likely means a busy lunch hour.
“They’re right next to hundreds of people who have nowhere to go for lunch,” he said.
Besides experience at the farmers markets, Lopez said she had little business experience, but her husband ran multiple small businesses in Mexico. The pair employ two other part-time employees and their daughters, ages 12 and 13, and 10-year-old son are learning the ropes of baking and cooking, she said.
“We want this to be something they can grow into and learn responsibility,” she said. “And maybe fall back on when they’re older.”
Baking is something Lopez grew into as well. Crafting sweet and savory cakes has been part of her life since she was at least 7 years old.
“I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t baking, so it’s been awhile,” she said. “You can make really wonderful things with simple ingredients.”