Panaderia El Solecito, the downtown Yakima Mexican bakery, did not appear likely to become a viral sensation.
Founded in 2008 by Paulino Suarez and his family, the hole-in-the-wall panaderia existed in relative obscurity for its first 12 years. Beloved among regulars for its authentic Michoacan-style baked goods and family atmosphere, it was nevertheless not the sort of place that generated buzz. But Suarez and his family did have a knack for reading their market and listening to what people wanted.
Their apple empanadas, for example, didn’t come from Michoacan; Suarez developed a recipe for them after seeing local demand.
So when his kids suggested Panaderia El Solecito start offering coffee and colorful Red Bull drinks — the latter of which have become a bona fide Washington state sensation over the past decade — he went along with it. It made sense; bakeries sell drinks all the time.
That was June. Everything has changed since then. These days if you stop by on a weekend, there’s likely to be a line of cars stretching down the block, waiting to get to the drive-up window. The combination of social media savvy and multilayered day-glo drinks, stacked high with fruit garnishes and accompanied by clip-on sidecars stuffed with cotton candy or hot Cheetos, has drawn people from hours away.
The Google reviews tell the story:
• “Drove from Puyallup ... so worth it!!! Kiddos loved their drinks, everything was amazing.”
• “I had to make the trip from Wenatchee to Yakima to try it. Soooooo worth the 2-hour drive. I got a blue raspberry colada and a Mangonada so yyuuuuummmm!”
• “If you want a kick of red bull in your fun flavored drinks and cups this is the place to go. Be prepared for a line.”
• “The drinks are what make it so famous and all honesty they are worth the 3 hour drive.”
The primary driver for that is the business’ TikTok account, which frequently features Suarez family members and lighthearted displays of their work — and is up to 289,000 followers. The most-watched videos on the account, with millions of views, are the ones starring the drinks being handed to delighted customers in their cars. The quick cuts in the videos are designed so that the effect is a parade of insanely colorful beverages — objets d’art, really — each one more extravagantly appointed than the last. The reactions are compelling, as people reach through their car windows with both hands to accept drinks as large as 135 ounces.
“I think people know they’re big,” said Suarez’ 19-year-old daughter, Paulina. “But when they see them, their eyes are like, ‘Whoa.’”
Clearly a lot of creativity and planning went into both the drinks and their online presentation, but their immediate success caught the family by surprise, said Suarez’ 23-year-old daughter, Yesica, a Central Washington University accounting and finance graduate and frequent star of the TikTok videos.
“We didn’t know it was going to happen,” she said. “It’s helped us a lot.”
It could help ensure the family business’ lasting success, too. Panaderia El Solecito was always terrific, but now it’s cool.
“We have gotten a different kind of people,” Yesica Suarez said. “The younger generation.”