At Lela’s Bakery in Central Islip, the bright, fuchsia-colored panes dulces — or sugary breads — are less colorful than the personalities of the people who work there.
The bakers, cooks and front-of-the house staff who are immigrants from El Salvador and Honduras make Lela’s, a bakery that specializes in Central American breads, cakes and sweet treats, more of a boisterous community watering hole than a business.
In the kitchen, laughter and a constant string of anecdotes shared by cooks Maritza Lizama and Alberto Gutierrez, and bakers Candy and Herson Giovany Hernandez compete with the loud sounds of the flour mixer. The smells of fresh bread and other sweets rising in the oven permeate the air.
As they walk through the bakery’s doors, most customers are greeted not only with a smile but by first name, their usual orders mouthed to them before they get a chance to say them. They’re offered cafecito, or small shots of coffee, told about the specials and asked about husbands. And wives. And kids. And pets. And jobs.
Husband-and-wife proprietors José and Ana Vasquez, who are also Salvadoran and live in Central Islip, said they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I want every person that walks through those doors to feel comfortable and feel safe, you know, to feel like they’re part of our family,” said Ana, who along with José opened Lela’s, which she named after their daughter, three years ago.
Husband-and-wife owners of Lela's Bakery, Ana and José Vasquez, show off their concha bread and doughnuts.
Dixia Alberto, front left, and Marina Umaña pick up their orders from co-owner Ana Vasquez, center, at Lela’s Bakery in Central Islip.
Baker Candy Hernandez with menudencias, a sweet bread shaped like stars or flowers.
Baker Marvin Ramírez pours filling onto the rolled dough of what will be gusanitos, a Salvadoran treat.
Clockwise from lower left: pan de coco (bread with coconut); pan de mil ojas (French pastry puff with merengue); trensa de ajonjoli (braided bread with sesame); la novia (meaning bride -- a sweet bread); and in the center, la monja (meaning the nun, filled with torta), at Lela's Bakery.
Candy Hernandez decorates besitos (“kisses”), which are cupcakes that are decorated in red and yellow with pineapple puree.
Marvin Ramírez makes pan de nudo (“knotted bread”), which has a dollop of cream cheese lightly folded into the dough and then is shaped to look like a pretzel.
Married bakers Candy and Herson Giovany Hernandez make arrechitas (“flirty thing”), a Salvadoran cookie filled with sweet cornbread.
Baker Lolita Caballero Bañera sifts flour. Her day begins at 7 a.m. with making pan frances, a hero-like bread loved by the bakery’s customers.
Bakers Marvin Ramírez and his wife, Lolita Caballero Bañera, met as teenagers at a market in Honduras, where a chicken from her family escaped and he helped recover it.
Lela's Bakery co-owners Ana and José Vasquez take time out of their busy day to show that for a married couple who own a bakery, friends in knead are friends indeed.
Eggs are a major ingredient at Lela’s Bakery in Central Islip, where almost every product contains just yolks, just whites or both.
Lela's Bakery co-owner Ana Vasquez,left, who speaks with customers Marina Umaña and Dixia Alberto, greets all customers with the same warmth.