‘Our business is gone’

Lara’s Bakery destroyed by tornado

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ Top: Lara’s Bakery, 24 N. 1st Ave, sustained irreparable damage to its business. Over 20 people, including customers and staff, were inside the building at the time of the tornado. The bakery had only operated out of this new location since April 2018, having previously been located next door at 28 N. First Ave. There was no insurance on the building. Above left: The bakery’s kitchen is open to the sky, days after the tornado. The second floor of the building collapsed, which in turn ripped out the ceiling. The ovens, now covered with tarps, were in use at the time of the storm. Above right: A scene from inside the bakery at the time of the tornado shows how these baking racks helped stop the ceiling from immediately caving in. Those inside ran to a nearby business to avoid being crushed by any debris, while the storm was still in progress.

It was business as usual Thursday afternoon at Lara’s Bakery, 24 N. 1st Ave. The scent of Guatemala bread, puerquitos (pig-shaped cookies) and tostados baking in the ovens offered a pleasant scent in the warm July air. A customer with two small children waited for her order. But then, the calm was altered. Glass began to shatter and the ceiling started to cave in.

A total of 24 people were inside the bakery when the tornado hit. They crowded inside one office, and shut the door. They all survived.

“I saw the tornado — it was right behind the building, and there was not enough time to go to the basement, so the first reaction was to go to the office,” bakery co-owner Patcy Castillo said. “We then heard silence and expected it was over.

“My brother-in-law Galdino Cano and myself came out of the office to just double check to see if it was safe, and the moment we stood outside the door of the office, we started hearing cracking noises. We didn’t even notice the roof was gone. We heard the sound of it cracking. Our first reaction was to get everyone out of the building — the employees, our family, our kids — because (the storm) wasn’t over yet.”

The group ran next door, taking refuge at Vaughn’s Pub.

The family business, which was founded in Mexico in 1970, had been a Marshalltown staple since 2006, first located at 707 N. 3rd Ave. In 2016, it relocated to 28 N. 1st Ave, in a rented building. The family then decided they wanted to purchase the building next door, 24 N. 1st Ave, because it offered more space. They spent about a year renovating it, opening in the new locale on April 21, 2018.

“All we put in this building is gone in three months,” Castillo said. “It was my dad’s and family’s dream to have our own building. He started the business back with his brother, and had it open in California and Des Moines too.”

Castillo co-owns the bakery along with her parents Javier Lara, Sr. and Salustria Lara, and siblings Gabriella Cano and Javier Lara, Jr. Her father was hours away in Mount Pleasant, making deliveries, while the others endured the tornado.

The business’ front door was destroyed, but the windows remain intact. Despite dirt and debris, the customer area is largely untouched. The back kitchen, however, was eaten away by the tornado’s voracious appetite. The second floor collapsed into the kitchen, caving under the weight of the fallen ceiling. Much of this space is without a roof.

Outside, several employee vehicles were damaged and two delivery vans were destroyed, crushed under the weight of bricks from the building’s ceiling.

The road to recovery is a long and winding path for the Lara family. Because of the exorbitant costs required to renovate the new bakery and purchase new ovens, says Castillo, the family did not have any insurance.

“I found an agent and he told us how much it was going to be,” she said. “It was a pretty big, high price for monthly insurance, and that’s the reason we wanted to just wait a little bit to have the money to pay for it. We never expected this was going to happen. Our business was the only thing giving us money. We’ll wait to see if we can get help from the government.”

The baking racks and ovens helped keep the ceiling from completely crashing down. Since the ovens were both on at the time of the tornado, the fire department was alerted and gas was shut off to the building, for fear of an explosion.

Friends, family and other volunteers have spent the last several days picking up the wreckage. The ovens are covered with tarps, to safeguard them against the elements.

To contact the family, send them a message at: larasbakery24@gmail.com

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or sjordan@timesrepublican.com