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Meet Kirk Michaelis of El Bolillo Bakery

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kirk Michaelis.

Kirk was born and raised on Galveston Island by a family of self-made, successful entrepreneurs. He graduated from Texas State where he majored in business, minored in marketing, and met his wife, Tammy. After several fruitless entrepreneurial ventures in every genre of business you can think of (from an oyster bar, to an air-duct cleaning company, to a bar, to a professional racquetball player/gear salesman, to a donut shop, to insurance) his wife put her foot down and told him that this next idea would have to be a success or he’d have to get a real job to help support her and their three daughters. So, Kirk put all his marketing ingenuity, wee morning & overtime hours, savings and heart into a small Mexican panaderia on Airline Drive in the Houston Heights in 1998. Kirk Michaelis picked up his three bakers every morning and drove to the bakery to begin cooking for when the first customers arrive at 5:00 am. They sold traditional pan Dulce and tres leches cakes from the beginning and Kirk would hand out flyers to the buyers and sellers at the Farmer’s Market next door or run to radio stations to try and promote the show with free pan Dulce. Then he would return to close the store and take the bakers home at 10 pm. It wasn’t but a year into the business before Tammy’s father, Bud Harmon, quit his job in Insurance to come and help Kirk, becoming his partner in El Bolillo Bakery. That same year, Kirk was diagnosed with Lymphoma and given a 20% chance of survival. His fight-or-flight mentality had already kicked in thanks to his wife’s job ultimatum, so he took that chance and fought not only to survive, but to keep the bakery growing. After five years of commuting to Austin for chemo therapy, Kirk was cancer free. El Bolillo Bakery had outgrown its location thanks to two factors- Bud Harmon’s constant presence and diplomatic business expertise, and El Bolillo Bakery’s involvement in the local Hispanic community. The store began gaining reputation and customers over the years until they no longer could make enough bread to support the demand, so they bought the property across the street and built their own store in 2001. 

They expanded their product variety over the years by getting bakers to try new things, buying higher quality materials, and Kirk being marketing inclined. Their motto was make the customers happy, never tell them no we can’t make that cake. Give them the best product we can and be friendly as we can, that’s what keep people coming in our doors. “I would bring bread to churches, to schools, to any kind of function around the neighborhood to let the people in the community know that we want to be a part of their family.” El Bolillo Bakery is listed as one of the “Top 25 Bakeries in America”, and The Best Bakery in Houston” for several years. The bakery has even been featured on national and international TV stations, newspapers, magazines, and social media pages for philanthropy and ‘inventing’ the “Uniconcha”.

After 20 years and three free-standing locations, El Bolillo Bakery has a reputation of not only the most loved panaderia in Houston, but being one of the most involved businesses in Houston with its community. So much so that there is even now an official “El Bolillo Day” in Houston, Texas to commemorate the thousands of pieces of bread donated during Hurricane Harvey. El Bolillo has donated cakes and bread to Tejano events, local galas, school fundraisers, hospitals, cancer awareness charities, church functions, and worked together with Gallery Furniture, Hilton Furniture, Houston Food Bank, Catholic Church. Many local restaurants use El Bolillo Bakery bolillos and tres-leches on their menus. Kirk and El Bolillo Bakery have been honored by The East End Chambers of Commerce, Heights Chamber of Commerce, Houston Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Pasadena Chamber of Commerce for outstanding service to the community. Kirk was even the commencement speaker at his high school’s 2017 graduation in Galveston.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It has not been a smooth road. Before the bakeries, I’d had several businesses that didn’t work. Even when our first location was starting to make money it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. The hours of effort you put in and ability to find your niche by being different is where success comes from. Trying to make sure the bakery would be successful while fighting cancer was stressful but empowering. I think the fighting attitude I had to make sure my family was taken care of is what got me from a 20% chance of living to being cancer free almost 20 years later.

Owning a service based business always comes with challenges. There are customer issues we must deal with on a daily basis, issues with employees, suppliers, running out of bread, making the right cake. The pop up problems never end. Thankfully I have incredible employees who have been working with me almost since we opened and they know how to take care of most of the daily obstacles. Opening a new location is the most difficult, because it’s just us trying to design, decorate, hire, etc. We’re not a major company, we’re a family business. We want to expand as much as we can, it just takes a lot longer than we’d imagined to find the right location, build something that works for us (we’ve learned some lessons there), teaching the new employees, and then getting a steady customer base.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with El Bolillo Bakery – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
We are a Mexican bakery. We bake 24 hours a day. High-quality traditional Mexican, Central American, and South American pastries. We are known for our bolillos, our tres leches, empanadas, and our world-famous “uniconcha”. We are proud of our kind employees, and the high quality artistic products they produce. We encourage our bakers and invent new pastries, they are artists. We are different from other Mexican bakeries in that we have fun. Our atmosphere is inviting, attractive, our employees are kind and engaging, they will speak to you about what certain types of bread are (we have over 100 different items to choose from). We are inventive, we see other bakeries copying our products all the time. We make the best cakes in Houston, anything from our famous tres leches to specialty wedding/quinceanera/birthday cakes.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
We hope to get our Pasadena location more well-known and running so that we can expand to other areas of town. Maybe even other cities! We are currently working on expanding our first location as well.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Meagan Michaelis

Getting in touch: VoyageHouston is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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