When Jesus Martinez Becerra Sr. came to the United States at age 14 with only $14 in his pocket, he remembered a promise he’d made to his brothers that he would open a business one day.
He got a job at La Reyna, a longtime bakery on South First Street, and in 1989, when the owners offered the opportunity to buy it, he knew this was his chance to fulfill that dream. In 1989, Becerra took over the bakery and renamed it La Mexicana, and for more than 30 years, this panadería has been selling homemade tortillas, cakes, cookies, empanadas, flan, pan dulces and bolillos, as well as tamales, breakfast tacos and some lunch and dinner plates in the small cafe inside.
For decades, La Mexicana was open 24 hours a day, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve adjusted their hours to 5 a.m. to 8 p.m.
After all these years, Becerra still prides himself on providing the best Mexican bread and pastry experience to each of their customers with every visit. The bakery has been a staple in the Austin community and earned a visit from the late Anthony Bourdain.
"As soon as you walk in it feels like you’re back in Mexico. We want every customer to get that experience and feel welcomed," says Becerra’s son, Jesus Jr., who is learning the business to take over once his father retires.
"Right now, I’m learning everything I can," Becerra Jr. says. "He’s taught me so much that I’ll always be grateful for."
Even as the neighborhood around La Mexicana has changed — property values in the Bouldin and Travis Heights neighborhoods can now easily exceed $1 million — the bakery continues to draw a loyal customer base from all over the city.
"We love being able to share our culture with the community," Becerra Jr. says.
Becerra Jr. says they hope to go back to being open during those late night hours and maybe even to expand the operations one day. But much of these plans depend on how business changes in the coming months as the pandemic continues. Becerra Sr. had to use his own savings to keep his business afloat before La Mexicana received federal relief money.