Occupation: Owner, with five associates
Where: La Concha, 3054 S. Fish Hatchery Rd.
Why you should go: Just set foot in this bustling bakery/sandwich shop and you'll be whisked off in a cloud of sweet vapors to beautiful, beloved Mexico. Viva!
Last time we talked you were going to retire -- this is retirement?
One morning not long after I sold La Paella, I found myself at home at 11 a.m., watching TV. I knew right then I had to get back to work. My kids are in college, my wife has her own life; what was I doing home alone?
Most of my wonderful staff at the old place came from Puebla. I'd been planning to open a bakery there for many years, but my family wasn't ready to move. So I got on a plane and went down there and came back with two bakers ' a cake man and a bread specialist.
I wanted La Concha to be 100% Mexican. All the recipes came from the father of one of my partners, a great traditional cook who flew up from Puebla for three months to set up the menu and equipment. Now his sons, who worked with me for a decade at La Paella, run the kitchen, along with the new bakers.
And we're planning a second La Concha, somewhere on the east side. I was born to be a businessman -- Cataluna, where I come from, is the business capital of Spain.
In retirement I turned out to be like an emeritus professor who won't quit. I keep wanting to teach, and what I'm teaching is the restaurant business.
You were always in love with your native Spanish cuisine. What brings you to la cocina mexicana?
I may be the best-prepared chef in Madison, but I don't touch the kitchen at La Concha. I'm enchanted by Mexico and I love Mexican food. I had a condo in Acapulco for 14 years, and my first restaurant in Madison was Mexican -- the long-gone Pacos, on upper State Street. I was a manager there many years ago. I'm Mexican in my heart now, too. At La Paella I was don Tomas. Here I'm Tomas, nada mas. Though I still make paella at home. I prepare it here for the staff sometimes, too, but not to sell.
The food at La Concha would lose its sabor mexicano if I started tweaking it with my Spanish touch. La Concha is worlds apart from La Paella. Our clients here are 80% Mexican at lunchtime. The rest are non-Mexican business people who can't resist our cemitas, Cuban sandwiches and tacos Arabes.
The clientele's 99% Mexican after 4 p.m. That's pan dulce time. The place is packed. It takes four lines and six cashiers to handle the crowd.
How many conchas -- sweet rolls -- do you bake fresh daily?
Five hundred during the week, 600 on weekends. We also do 400 cemitas, 200 traditional Mexican doughnuts and -- depending on the day -- between 50 and 200 each of some 60 additional kinds of sweet rolls, like besos, palmitos, orejas de elefante, borrachitos, lechuzas and creme-filled calabazas.