“I grew up eating Cuban food and I always loved the taste,” said Vivian Hernandez-Jackson, owner and chef at Azucar. “But I wanted to give it a more upscale look.”
It’s been 10 years since Hernandez fulfilled her lifelong dream to open up an eatery that combined the Cuban treats of her childhood with the modern European style of Hernandez’s culinary schooling. Though Azucar also offers traditional Cuban-style ham, pork, turkey and pear sandwiches, it’s the pastries that have stolen the show, from the peach champagne scones to the fried Papas Rellenas.
“The support from the community has been amazing,” said Hernandez. “A lot of them have gotten obsessed with the Cuban pastries even though none of them are Cuban at all.”
She added: “We also have a lot of local schools around us so tons of people come before and after school for snacks. It’s gotten everyone hooked.”
Born and raised in Miami to Cuban parents, Hernandez is first generation American and has been baking since the age of 8. While no one else in the family shared her affinity for cakes, cookies and croissants, Hernandez-Jackson was one of five children and “never lacked for taste-testers.”
“I got into it just watching cooking shows and reading lots of Bon Appétit magazines,” said Hernandez, who studied at London’s famous French culinary school Le Cordon Bleu. “I love the scientific approach to baking, how everything has to be exact. I’m a really organized person and I really like working in that way – if you follow these complete steps, it will turn out the way it should.”
Hernandez made the move to California in 2003 to teach baking at La Mesa’s culinary arts school. Six years later, she opened Azucar – meaning “sugar” in Spanish – with her husband, Bert. The two now live in Ocean Beach with their daughters Estella and Pearl, the bakery right down the hill from their home.
“My 8-year-old already wants to start working in the kitchen,” said Hernandez of Estella, whose favorite dessert is her mother’s guava butter puff pastry. “Same age I was when it all started.”
Azucar’s soft and fruit-filled pastries have attracted regular customers, 80 percent of whom Hernandez and her staff know by name. Some are even “Miami transplants” as Hernandez calls them.
“It’s easy to get to know people when they’re coming in almost every day of the week,” said Hernandez. “There are a lot of places out there that are very casual where people walk up to a little window and grab their coffee and pastry. I think what we’ve done here is combine that casual Cuban feel with the European elegance. It’s very different and we’ve kicked the experience up a notch.”
Azucar’s pastries start at $2.50 and they also offer made to order wedding and birthday cakes starting at $28. To place an order or see their menu, visit iloveazucar.com.
4820 Newport Ave.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.