It’s late morning on a Wednesday in mid-January, and the queue at Colossus Bread stretches to the street.
In line is a mix of young coffee hipsters, middle-aged professionals, neighborhood families, and a longshoreman, all waiting quietly outside, staring at their phones while standing on socially distant black squares peppered along the wide Alma Street sidewalk. Due to COVID restrictions, the front entrance now serves as the bakery’s outdoor take-out counter. Customers place and pick up orders at the doorway, which now has a large sheet of plexiglass separating the staff from the public. The pastry case sits against the front window for all to view.
“It’s a sign of the times,” one woman says as she walks away with her coffee and croissant.
Colossus Bread, which opened its doors a year and a half ago, arrived in San Pedro to much fanfare. After making a name for herself selling bread and pastries in the Long Beach area through various farmers markets and local cafes, owner Kristin Colazas Rodriguez decided it was time to open a storefront. She began her search in 2018 when a friend suggested looking in San Pedro.
“We were already wholesaling in Long Beach, and I was worried that [San Pedro] might be kind of far,” remembers Colazas Rodriguez. “I was a little worried that I didn’t know if we had a base here.”
That insecurity faded the more she kept searching in town, eventually landing in the 700 square foot space next door to The Chori-Man, on the corner of Alma and 23rd Street. The storefront had been the home to a few bakeries in the past, which helped with the move-in and setup. Plus, it was affordable, and Colazas Rodriguez was attracted to the charm of opening up a small neighborhood cafe.
“I don’t know, exactly, what the demographics are of San Pedro right now. I don’t know what the vibe is,” she explains. “But I feel like a good bakery, a good coffee shop, I feel like that’s something that people here would appreciate. I think there’s a need for this here.”
She was right. The buzz was high about Colossus Bread’s San Pedro opening in August 2019, and her pastries and coffee didn’t disappoint. Great word of mouth and a strong social media following has helped keep the bakery in the black through the pandemic. So much so that a second location in Belmont Shore will be opening up by mid-February.
FROM THE LBC TO SP
Born and raised in Long Beach, the 30-year-old entrepreneur has her San Pedro connections. Her father, Zan Colazas, was the principal at Seventh Street Elementary School for nearly a decade, retiring in 2010.
“I was coming over [to San Pedro] all the time when I was a kid, but I hadn’t really been over here since,” she explains.
For Colazas Rodriguez, becoming a baker-slash-small business owner wasn’t some lifelong dream that’s suddenly been realized. A graduate of Cal State Long Beach, she was a history and economics major with a minor in Middle Eastern studies.
“I was going to try to work for the CIA or something,” she says, laughing.
What she didn’t realize at the time was that the coffee shop jobs that kept her afloat in college while she was buried in her majors would end up inspiring her to make a surprising career pivot.
“I was working at cafes during college, and I always loved it,” she explains. “I loved the atmosphere. I loved going to cafes when I studied abroad in Europe and Morocco. I loved the culture around cafes. But all the cafes I worked at in Long Beach didn’t have pastries that met the coffee, in my opinion. And I always thought it would be so cool to have a cafe where things were being made in-house with local fruit. So that’s kind of where I started, and I didn’t know how to get there. I worked in the nonprofit world for a couple of years, and then I just was like, ‘I need to learn how to make stuff if I want to do that.’”
Opening a bakery is one thing. Opening a bakery while also being your head baker is another. But that’s what Colazas Rodriguez had her sights set on. With culinary school out of the question (“too expensive”), she decided the best way to learn was by working alongside some of the best pastry chefs and bakers in the business.
“I wouldn’t get enjoyment out of it if I wasn’t doing the making,” she explains. “I’d need to hire someone to do that, and I really wanted to be a part of it. So, I just started researching and begging people for jobs.”
She landed an entry-level gig at Osteria Mozza, one of Los Angeles’ finest Italian restaurants, in their pastry department, where she learned the basics of working in a kitchen and plating pastries (“putting components on a dish and making it look pretty”), eventually moving up in the department. She developed an interest in breadmaking and moved to the Bay Area, where she worked for a few years in a commercial bread bakery and a few notable restaurants.
“I worked my way up at [three-Michelin-starred chef] Dominique Crenn’s smaller restaurant, [Petit Crenn],” remembers Colazas Rodriguez. “I worked there under the pastry chef who was there at the time, as his assistant, and I worked my way up to sous chef, and then eventually pastry chef. That was where I thought, ‘Okay, I could run my own program. I can do the pastries on my own.’”
After moving back to Long Beach, Colazas Rodriguez started Colossus Bread (a take on her maiden name), working in a shared kitchen and selling her San Francisco-style bread loaves and croissant pastries at various farmers markets in the Long Beach area. Before being able to afford commercial machinery, she made everything by hand, which became cumbersome when trying to keep up with demand.
“I started doing it all by hand, so that seemed feasible to me,” she says. “I think that would’ve been a roadblock for a lot of people. It definitely was an impetus for me to say, ‘Okay, I need a shop. I need a space.’ Because you really need that equipment to be able to do it on any kind of a scale.”
In the early days, Colazas Rodriguez would be able to produce 250 pastries a week by hand, all by herself. Currently, with the proper equipment and staff in the San Pedro shop, they’re able to produce 1,500 a week, with plans for even more output when the Belmont Shore shop opens.
“I mean, we’re still selling out. It’s hard to gauge,” she says, adding that in its opening months, selling out of bread loaves and pastries too early became the bakery’s biggest customer complaint.
“I think we’ve more or less got it dialed in now,” she says. “We also are very anti-waste. We bake everything fresh every day. We use high-quality, expensive ingredients, so we don’t want to throw away pastries at the end of the day, whereas some bakeries might carry things over another day. We want to sell it out, but we want to sell it out perfectly. Or, we want to have a little buffer. We’re getting better at that.”
A SIGNATURE STYLE
“We want people to see our pastries and be like, ‘Oh, that’s from Colossus.’” says Colazas Rodriguez.
Their exact menu changes week to week. Some regular offerings include their country and olive & cumin bread loaves, ham and gruyere croissants, OG chocolate chip cookies (with a vegan option), banana pecan loaves, and kouign-amann (a butter cake, described as part sticky bun and part sugared croissant).
“If I’m feeling sweet, that’s my favorite,” she says of the kouign-amann. “No one can ever pronounce it. They go, ‘the thing that’s in a muffin can.’ But basically, it’s a caramelized croissant pastry. We make a paste with vanilla paste and a little salt, butter, and sugar. And then it’s folded into the croissant and baked, so it caramelizes on the outside. And it’s gooey in the middle. It’s really, really good.”
Colazas Rodriguez admits that her pastries “have a little more color” than most people are used to, which is by design. She also explains that they use whole wheat in their pastries, which “gives them a little bit of speckle in the middle and a little bit of a darker color.”
Being next door to a popular breakfast burrito spot like The Chori-Man has proven beneficial for both businesses, says Mandy Barton, The Chori-Man’s owner/managing partner. She believes they complement each other nicely.
“Their coffee drinks are perfect for our breakfast burritos, and we’re always looking at ways to collaborate and play off each other,” explains Barton. “Kristin has made sausage rolls with our chorizo, Humberto [Raygoza, the “Chori-Man” himself] has featured a special sandwich using Colossus-baked buns, and we’re always looking for fun collaborations between the two businesses and talents.”
So far, the reviews for the bakery have been overwhelmingly positive. One woman on Yelp.com wrote: “Colossus does laminated dough completely right.” Adding, “Colossus also has, hands down, the best chocolate croissant I have ever had.”
ALL IN THE FAMILY
You can’t have a cafe without coffee. Fortunately, Colazas Rodriguez found a coffee roaster close to home with her husband, Nicholas, owner of Penny Coffee Roasters out of Glendora.
“We both worked at the same coffee shop, like, ten years ago, but at different locations,” remembers Colazas Rodriguez. They were a perfect fit for each other, especially professionally, as both decided to pursue their passions in the cafe industry, with Kristin on the pastry side and Nicholas on the coffee side.
“He wholesales [his coffee] to Colossus and a couple of other locations,” explains Colazas Rodriguez. “He’s still managing our coffee program from a distance. He’s going to be our operations manager for Colossus, keeping an eye on the coffee program here. We’re also promoting one of our baristas to a management position.”
SECOND ON SECOND
The quick success of Colossus Bread in San Pedro has led to a homecoming of sorts back into Long Beach, with a new bakery and cafe opening soon in a prime location on Second Street in Belmont Shore.
“We’re not leaving San Pedro,” Colazas Rodriguez is quick to point out, making it very clear there are no plans to close the Alma Street location.
When the Long Beach location is up and running, Colazas Rodriguez says that all of Colossus Bread’s baked goods will be made in the new location and delivered daily to the San Pedro store. Not only will the larger commercial kitchen help increase production, but it also gives her the room for much-needed equipment and resources to expand its menu beyond its current bread and pastry offerings.
“We’ll be able to do breakfast sandwiches and stuff like that. We’re excited about the possibilities,” she says. “I am hiring a savory chef for the Long Beach location. He’s going to be developing some premade baguette sandwiches. We’re going to be able to make baguettes, which we can’t do now. It’s going to be crazy.”
Currently, Colossus Bread employs a dozen people, expanding to 16 by the Belmont Shore location opening. “It requires a lot of staff just for the front with the online orders,” she says. “We’ll still have a full staff [in San Pedro], but we are looking for a couple more.”
San Pedro has a rich history of family-owned bakeries. Familiar names such as Amalfitano, DiCarlo, and Ramona have been lost to time and only serve as nostalgia points now. Fortunately, Joseph’s and Polly Ann are still around, but it’s clear that Colossus’ arrival marks a turning point in the next generation of family-owned bakeries in town.
“Our goal is to keep the good vibes here [in San Pedro],” says Colazas Rodriguez. “I really like this shop, and I really like our customers. Luckily, so far, we’ve been able to find an awesome staff who are just naturally great at talking to people. Now, it’s about how do we scale that and how do we ensure that it stays that way, and the good vibes continue.” spt
Colossus Bread is located at 2311 S. Alma St. Bakery is open Wed-Sun, 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. for takeout only. You can also order online at colossusbread.com.
The new Belmont Shore store is located at 4716 E. Second Street in Long Beach and is scheduled to open in mid-February.