Keeping it in the family

Irvin Perez carries on the family tradition at Lyndale bakery

Dough hangs thick on Irvin Perez's family tree.

His grandfather was a baker, his dad is a baker and so are six of his uncles.

Baking is the family business, and it's a tradition that 16-year-old Perez is keeping alive at La Princesa Bakery at 3343 Nicollet Ave.

His dad, Francesco Perez Martinez, closed the bakery after three years of operation because rent climbed out of reach. Martinez continued work at another bakery, but his son didn't forget about La Princesa, which sat vacant for several years.

When rent at the property dipped last year, Perez asked his dad to let him run it. Perez got the answer he was looking for and reopened the bakery about six months ago.

&#8220He had good business here,” Perez said of his father at La Princesa. &#8220It's really kind of my dad's dream. I know he likes it.”

Perez learned to bake a couple of years ago and gained business experience working with his father. Martinez's name is on the lease at La Princesa, but Perez runs the bakery with his mother, Bulmara Espegel, who moved from Mexico to help him.

She said she was surprised to hear her son was running a business at his age.

&#8220He's very mature,” she said through Irvin, who translated for her. &#8220This is central in what he's doing. I'm proud of him.”

Espegel, who was an elementary school teacher in Mexico, oversees the shop while her son attends high school. She runs the register, cleans the shop, and stocks baked goods, which include a variety of traditional Mexican bread, cake and pastries.

Martinez helps his son when he can, but he spends most of his time working at a bakery in Eagan. He said he plans to spend more time at La Princesa starting this month.

When Perez is at La Princesa, he's usually near the oven. He bakes every day after school and every weekend, always with a smile and never complaining. Perez said he still finds time for homework and friends, but he's dedicated to the business, which has been slow lately.

&#8220I want to see it get better,” he said.

La Princesa might not have many customers yet, but it does have regulars. Betsy O'Connor, owner of B-Squad Vintage at 38th Street and Nicollet Avenue, said she buys something from the bakery every couple weeks. Apple turnovers and bread loafs are her favorite items.

O'Connor said she'll wave to Perez, and he'll smile shyly.

&#8220He seems to be happy with what he's doing,” she said. &#8220I hope he stays.”

Perez said he plans to go to school for business at the University of Minnesota and eventually start his own chain of bakeries under the La Princesa name. Perez is happy to carry on the family trade but said he bakes because he enjoys it.

La Princesa Bakery is open from 9 a.m.-10:30 p.m. every day and can be reached at 823-3743.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected].