[dropcap]T[/dropcap]ake a drive down 26th Street in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, and just past Lawndale Avenue sits a brick building that housed El Nopal Bakery. A pillar of the Little Village community and a bakery beloved by residents both local and across Chicago, El Nopal announced on their Facebook page on July 21 that they were closing their doors and retiring.
The news stunned fans, and the reactions showed an outpouring of support, heart ache and appreciation for the bakery and their goods. The bakery’s pan dulce was the most talked about delicacy, and fans across Chicago wondered where they would get their pan or even galletas, treats that many looked forward to when they came to Little Village.
Marisol Delavez, 34, remembers the first time she went to El Nopal.
“My parents would take us there when we were being good,” Delavez said. “But my Dad would take us there just because. It was always a great time, and I loved everything from the smell to the treats.”
Delavez said her parents, who emigrated from Mexico, found El Nopal in their first location, which was on South Halsted Street in the Near West Side neighborhood. She said they felt welcomed and the baked goods not only reminded them of home, but was a sense of comfort to them, culturally.
The owners, Francisco and Celia Bonilla, founded the El Nopal Bakery in the original location, at 330 S. Halsted St. in 1954.
El Nopal Bakery and the Bonillas soon became involved in the community in the 330 S. Halsted location as well as their Little Village location on 26th Street. The Bonillas actively reached out to sports teams, like the Los Rayos in the 1950s and attended grand openings of Pilsen stores in the 1960s as a means of showing support. The Bonillas’ ability to reach out affected and impacted many of the residents.
A story shared on the bakery’s Facebook page tells an encounter Mrs. Bonilla had with a young boy. The boy asked for a job at the bakery, but Mrs. Bonilla told him they didn’t have any work. She offered the boy bread, and the boy told her that he lived with his grandmother and brothers, and that he would share the bread with them when he got home. Struck by the boy’s circumstances, Mrs. Bonilla not only gave the young boy six pieces of bread, but also $5 for milk. The boy thanked her and said, “Un dia se lo pago,” or “One day, I will pay for this,” which brought tears to Mrs. Bonilla’s eyes. This was just one of the many stories that showed how involved and committed the Bonillas were to the community and the people they loved to baked for.
El Nopal Bakery will be missed and remembered by all who were affected by the Bonillas’ generosity.