Don’t pigeonhole him as a “Mexican baker” — Angel Rocha is ready to feed everyone in a diverse Central District.
Angel Rocha is a lucky man. Just ask him, and he’ll tell you.
The landlord of the building that sat empty just past Martin Luther King on Cherry wanted a bakery, and on nothing but a good impression and blind faith, let Angel have it at reduced rent, knowing he was a hard-working man with a vision.
Then when the espresso machine broke down the day before opening, the supplier agreed to come by after hours and fix it on a payment plan because he ‘looked like a good man’.
According to Rocha, the community has been nothing but supportive of Golden Wheat Bakery since it opened last March.
“We have really good people,” he says “This is a neighbors’ bakery.”
Regardless, it takes more than just luck to start a business, no less a bakery in post-recession America. Lucky for the Central District, Angel Rocha is also a master baker.
Never formally trained, Rocha has been learning pastry since he was eight years old, when he first started working in bakeries in Jalisco, Mexico. After landing in Kent by way of California, he worked in everything from Italian to gluten-free establishments, until he was finally able to open his own place.
At 43, somehow, he still has the vigor to work 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week, to get Golden Wheat off the ground. He doesn’t seem to mind.
“When you work for someone else you have to do it like he does, but when you work for yourself – you can do what you want,” he explains with a quiet confidence, insisting I try some of the tiramisu he is testing out with Marsala wine.
Reconciling world-class croissants and health maybe somewhat of a fool’s errand, but in a profession that deals in butter and sugar, it takes gumption for a baker to admit that he cuts down on both.
Rocha is set on doing it his way: making everything — from ladyfingers to raspberry jam — daily from scratch, drawing on different baking traditions, and adjusting ingredients to reduce on ‘the bad stuff’.
Turns out, thank goodness, there’s still enough to make everything taste sufficiently bad for you.
Though the Central District has historically been home to an assortment of ethnic eateries, don’t pigeonhole this place. Rocha is keen on selling himself as a talented baker, period. Not a Mexican baker. He’s mastered everything from rugelach to biscotti to wedding cakes. In a few weeks, French quiches will be sharing a pastry case with Spanish empanadas. He does offer a few Mexican specialties, the most popular of which remains an unassuming but delicious pecan shortbread, a twist on traditional polvorones.
“You know, most Latino stores — they are just for Latinos,” he says. “I wanted something more international.”
The vibe of Golden Wheat — unpretentious, colorful, and full of members of Rocha’s family (his mom, Juanalomili is on dishes!) — is inviting, and the free wifi and boutique local coffee from Vashon Coffee Company meet the basic Seattle cafe needs.
In an area coping with racial hyper-tension brought on by gentrification, shaky police relations and an increase in gang violence and crime, Golden Wheat Bakery has the potential to be a true community space on a diverse corner straddling the Central District and Madrona.
Rocha admits that he knew little about the area when he opened, having spent the last ten years working and living in Kent with his family. The large Latino community from his home neighborhood have created a buzz — many have made the trek into Seattle just to try out the place.
Slowly, Rocha has begun to explore Seattle (the Columbia City Farmers’ Market is a new favorite) and look more closely at Seattle Public Schools. Eventually, he hopes to move to Seattle with his family, though not to the Central District which he says is “too expensive.”
General trends of gentrification and soaring rent are real in the Central District, and as the city continues to suffer from what The Stranger coined ‘Seattle condo cancer,’ small businesses like Golden Wheat are assets. They can only help to preserve the character of a neighborhood that has always been home to many different communities.
Rocha says his intention is not to appeal to one crowd or another, just to be a simple place that people like to come in for a pastry and coffee. With his affable personality and dedication to his craft, Golden Wheat has already begun winning over the neighbors, as evidenced by the stream of apparent regulars that float in, despite the summer slow season.
“We are doing ok. The community has been very supportive,” he says optimistically. “But winter is our time.”
As the cold weather approaches, I’m glad to know exactly where my next almond croissant is coming from.
Golden Wheat Bakery is located at 2908 E. Cherry St. They’re open 7 days a week, from 7 am until 6:30 pm.