The secret ingredient

It’s 10 p.m. in Sahuayo, a city in the west Mexico state of Michoacan. From the second floor apartment above the family’s bakery, 10-year-old Katia Anaya smells the fresh conchas that have just come out of the oven. Children in Mexico often enjoy the sweet bread, which resembles a seashell, with a glass of milk as a bedtime snack. “Every night, I would go get one,” said Anaya (BSBA ‘10).

She would fall asleep to the familiar sounds of bakers practicing their craft: “Pans and trays hitting the wood tables, loud music, singing. I’ve never seen someone work the way they do, with the music, dancing, singing and making jokes. It’s a quality they all have and something unique that’s always been part of my life.”

The Anaya family founded the bakery’s flagship location in 1912. In 1998, Katia’s father, Francisco “Pancho” Anaya, heard from a friend that there was a growing Hispanic population in Tulsa. “He told my dad about how it would be a great opportunity to open a bakery that served good quality Mexican bread,” she said.

The family moved to Tulsa, bringing with them the traditional recipes, commitment to quality and artisan techniques that made Pancho Anaya one of the largest bakeries in Michoacan. Anaya recounts her father’s dedication to the business’s success. “He would leave the house at 4 a.m. After school, we would all go to the bakery and come home at about 9 p.m. There was just a lot of hard work and discipline.”

family businessAt 13, Anaya started working the register at the bakery after school, completing homework assignments between customers. Education was non-negotiable for Anaya and her siblings, who also share in the responsibilities of running the bakery today. “We always knew we would go to college and work never interfered with that,” she said. In high school, she took on more of the baking and also mastered the art of cake decorating.

Choosing to attend TU allowed Anaya to continue working while earning her degree. She always knew she wanted to continue the tradition of her family’s bakery, and TU offered a management degree concentration in family-owned business and entrepreneurship.

Taking a human resources course led to an interest in the field and today it comprises a majority of her work at the bakery, which has expanded to three locations including one in the Kendall Whittier neighborhood near TU’s campus.

After completing her degree in 2010, Anaya took on the task of implementing new HR policies and procedures for the bakery. “Most of the time when you graduate, you go into a business that already has these things laid out for you; but for me, it was more challenging. I had to write the bylaws for the business and implement new policies such as required uniforms.” In the first month of her new role, Anaya had four people resign.

“I asked myself whether there was something wrong with me — was I too strict? But sometimes you have to make these kinds of changes, and unfortunately, not everyone will accept them. That was a difficult transition for me.” Anaya leaned on her parents’ mentorship to work through the challenges and ultimately, employees found a new rhythm under the updated policies.

While some operations at the bakery may have changed, Pancho Anaya’s commitment to producing quality baked goods remains the sole focus of the business. The bakers still prepare everything from scratch using traditional, handcrafted techniques. “We’ve seen some bakeries start to offer different services, but staying focused on our product and continuing to improve it is our ultimate goal,” Anaya said.

She is excited about partnering with local restaurants, which exposes the bakery’s products to a new audience. “We’ve started doing business with Mexican restaurants, providing bread for tortas, and also making baguettes and hot dog and hamburger buns for other restaurants in town. It’s a new market for us.”

Anaya notes that being part of a family-owned business comes with its own unique set of challenges, something she learned during Professor Jim Senese’s entrepreneurship class. “He picked members of each team and placed complete opposites with one another,” she recalled. “It was a powerful illustration because in a family-owned business, you don’t get to pick your family. You have to learn to work together, and it’s often difficult to separate family from business. It’s not something we have down 100 percent, but we are always working on it. It’s truly satisfying to accomplish all of these goals and dreams together as a family.”