By: Tiffany Razzano
Originally appeared in the July 15, 2016 edition of La Gaceta Newspaper
It’s not often that a business survives 100 years. It’s even less likely that a company with such vast history will remain in the hands of a single family the entire time.
This is part of what makes the story of Ybor City’s La Segunda Bakery, which celebrated its centennial anniversary last year, so amazing.
“I’ve read about this. I’ve heard that the third generation is the one that usually fails,” said Copeland Moré, the fourth-generation owner of the bakery known for its authentic Cuban bread. “So I have to give a lot of credit to my dad, [Tony,] and his cousin, [Raymond.] They were really just hard workers. There’s really no other way to put it.”
Copeland said the driving force that has kept the family bakery in business is a shared passion for the bread that has continued from generation to generation. Even today, his father, who is now 74 and co-owns La Segunda, comes into work every morning and often puts in a full work day. “He loves it. He doesn’t ever want to retire. He doesn’t want to just go home and lay around, just sit there,” Copeland said. “He wants to stay active and be involved in the business.”
Copeland added, “And there’s part of that in me too. I love it. I love talking about it. That’s how the business carries on and becomes a family legacy.”
La Segunda was founded by Copeland’s great-grandfather, Juan Moré. Hailing from Spain’s Catalan region, he traveled to Cuba to fight in the Spanish-American War in the late 19th century. This was where he fell in love with authentic Cuban bread and learned how to make it himself.
After the war, like many others, he was drawn to Ybor City during its cigar boom, with one goal in mind: opening a bakery. At the onset of World War I, he joined a small baking cooperative that opened three bakeries: La Primera, La Segunda and La Tercera. When the other two folded, Juan purchased La Segunda in 1915. He made a name for himself supplying local restaurants, such as the Columbia, with bread, and residents of the district knew La Segunda was where they could purchase authentic Cuban bread.
Over the years, the business passed on to other family members, first to Copeland’s grandfather, and then to his father and his father’s cousin. It was Tony and Raymond who started the company’s wholesale operations in the mid-1990s.
The Columbia Restaurant Group began making its wholesale food purchases through food distributor Sysco. When the Columbia made the change, they told Sysco: “We need La Segunda bread.” So Tony and Raymond figured out a way to freeze and ship the bread, which opened up opportunities to get their product to new customers.
Meanwhile, Copeland, who worked in the bakery as a child and teenager, doing everything from delivering bread to packing cookie boxes, never thought he’d enter the family business. “I grew up in the bakery,” he said. “It was always a big part of our family … But I never thought I’d run it one day.”
His father never pressured him to feel like he had to enter the family business and instead encouraged Copeland to pursue his own interests. His father had a PhD in chemistry, teaching for a while and even had an offer with a chemical company. But his father felt compelled to take over La Segunda. “It was a business that I don’t think my dad really wanted me to be exposed to,” Copeland said. “He was there long hours. We are open 24 hours a day.”
After graduating from Berkeley Preparatory School, Copeland headed to Ohio, where he studied business at Miami University. He returned to Tampa and began working at his friend’s company, Franklin Street Financial, a real estate financing company. Then the real estate bubble burst in 2008. The company hung out – and today is doing well, Copeland said – but he began to rethink what he wanted to do for a living.
At the time, Raymond was ready to retire from La Segunda. So Copeland decided to step up and become co-owner of the family business. “The opportunity happened really organically,” he said. “I weighed all the options, looked at the numbers, met with everyone and made a decision. It was a big opportunity. I felt we had a great brand and a great product.”
He also saw the chance to modernize the company, a bit, while retaining its old-world charm that is such a draw for customers. The first thing he did was build a website for La Segunda.
Next, the father-son team looked to rebrand the company. “If you say ‘La Segunda’ to people, they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, great bread,’ but they don’t come here,” Copeland said. “They know our bread from the Columbia and other local restaurants.”
There had always been a large divide between La Segunda’s wholesale business and its café business, where they sold bread, sandwiches, pastries and coffee. So they looked to improve the café side of the business. “It was just about rebranding it a little bit so people were aware of it being a destination and show them that it’s a different concept than Panera Bread or wherever else you might get a sandwich,” Copeland said.
They renovated the building, making it more trendy and appealing, while still offering an old-school feel of a century-old business. “I feel the most important part of marketing is making sure the internal stuff looks good and is functioning,” he said.
He also brought in a digital register, allowing the café to accept credit cards for the first time. He also focused on customer service. “We wanted people to come in and feel like they’re part of the family and also get served quickly,” he said. While the café doesn’t offer seating, “we want people to come in and out fast without being rushed. We want families to see what an old-world bakery is like and take their time. But once they make their decision, we get them out fast.”
Café sales improved drastically with the changes. Though wholesale sales still make up the bulk of La Segunda’s business – wholesale accounts for 75 percent of all business for the bakery – café sales tripled, Copeland said.
He also brought a pair of fresh eyes to the wholesale end of the business. His father and cousin had done a great deal to grow that side of the company. But as La Segunda began to provide bread to national chains – World of Beer, Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, Larry’s Giant Subs – Copeland saw an opportunity. “We market towards the markets that already have distribution established” thanks to these chains, he said. “We have sales reps that really hammer those markets and work on expanding our distribution.”
Today, La Segunda Cuban bread is used by restaurants from Seattle to Texas and throughout the East Coast, he added. As the Cuban sandwich gains popularity throughout the country, more and more restaurants are offering it on their menu. “But they put it on hoagie bread of Italian bread because they don’t know any better,” Copeland said. “They don’t know that they can get handmade Ybor City bread. Now we can get it to them.”
Despite the growth and changes, La Segunda retains its family feel, Copeland said. Many employees have worked for the bakery for decades. Sheila, who works up front, has been with the company for 44 years. Many of the master bakers have worked for the bakery for 20 or 30 years. “We’re fortunate a lot of the staff has stayed with us,” Copeland said. “Making Cuban bread way we make it is difficult. There’s no air conditioning in the back of bakery. So they’re really at the mercy of the elements and the weather. Being able to adjust and know this flour is different from that flour and today there’s more humidity and it’s hotter out and making all those adjustments takes years and years of experience of working with the dough and touching the dough. Without those guys there wouldn’t be Cuban bread the way people taste it.”
Copeland has also become involved with the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce. In May, he was inducted as chair of the chamber board. He started out as a board member five years ago, before becoming treasurer and then incoming chair.
He has a big year planned for the chamber. He plans to create a small business council, which would offer resources and information to small business owners. “I feel like what a chamber should be to a district is to really help small businesses and I think it’s something we’ve lost focus on a little bit over the years,” he said.
He added, “Big businesses move in and the government gives them tax incentives, and this and that, and small businesses don’t really get anything. We want to help them get into business and stay successful.”
The chamber will also rebrand some of its seminal events to make them more family friendly. “We want Ybor City to be thought of as family friendly and not just night clubs and bars and a part district,” Copeland said. “There’s a lot of history here and people should know about it.”
He added, “It’s an important organization for me and our family, so I definitely want to give back. It’s important to give back to the district that has done so much for us over the years.”