The people-watching was almost as good as my mid-afternoon calorie bomb.
An older couple picking out just the right nosh from the case. A harried woman running in to pick up a pre-ordered birthday cake. A distinguished gentleman and his cookie nodding and joining me at one of the small tables by the window – there were a few sidewalk tables outside, but it was an August afternoon, and most sane people avoid the sticky late summer heat in this part of Texas.
Since 1941, Rao’s Bakery has been tucked into a brick building at the corner of 10th and Calder Avenue in Beaumont, Texas. I used to walk past it almost every day, because I went to high school in Beaumont in the mid-1970s. After escaping as soon as I could to go to college elsewhere, I now view the town with more appreciative eyes, especially its independent, local eateries like Rao’s.
The founders – Johnny Rao and his family – reflect the strong Italian heritage in southeast Texas. Like any good neighborhood bakery, they sell signature items started by the founders, plus options added on over the years when requested by customers.
Rao’s menu of cakes looks like the mishmash gumbo of ethnic groups who live here: Italian Cream, Sacher Torte, Red Velvet, Tres Leches, and of course, Texas Chocolate Pecan.
Starting a small bakery and running it successfully for decades is no small feat. If the product is good, such businesses will always get my support, but as a busy traveler I understand how hard it can be to find the good local offerings rather than whip into the first Starbucks you see.
You have to build in time to be open to the serendipity that will show you “the good stuff,” or, you have to build in the time to pull off the road and do some Googling and Yelping to find out what’s nearby other than the chain places.
Admittedly, even that doesn’t always work, because those special indie businesses are often really bad about having a find-able online presence like a website or even an up-to-date Facebook Page.
You as a traveler can help them. Leave reviews. Write blog posts. Talk about them on your personal social networks. Share online photos of their delicious goodies.
I want Starbucks when I want it, but I also want my favorite neighborhood bakeries like Rao’s to be around forever, giving me those special moments (and calorie bombs!) that I can’t get anywhere else.
What about you? Give a shout-out to YOUR favorite local bakery down in the comments.
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