The coronavirus pandemic has proven to be a challenge for many Dallas restaurants, but a long-running mom-and-pop concept is coming at it with cakes a-blazing.
La Duni, the gourmet Latin American bakery and cafe from husband-and-wife Espartaco "Taco" and Dunia Borga, has deployed a multi-pronged response that includes a heavy-duty online presence plus special pop-ups featuring guest chefs.
Many restaurants have had difficulty figuring out a workable to-go model, but the Borgas realized quickly that they'd have to beef up their online presence. Keeping it in the family, it's overseen by their son Brandon, 19, who does the website, as well as all of their photography and graphic design.
They now have three portals for ordering:
Their full menu is available at squareup.com/mckinney. That's where you can get signature sandwiches such as their egg torta with avocado mash, Cuban, gaucho chicken, ribeye burger, veggie burger, and more. They also have meaty entrees like Argentinean-style parrillada; enchiladas with hand-pulled chicken; carne asada; and taco platters.
All of their signature baked goods are there, including Latin American breads and pastries, plus cakes, scones, cookies, flan, chocolate confections, and more; plus beverages including coffee and espresso drinks; plus alcohol to go, including that COVID-19 favorite, margaritas; plus a whole brunch section with huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, French toast, and more. So much more.
They've created a separate site for ordering late-night on weekends from Thursday-Saturday at squareup.la-duni which has a slightly abbreviated menu. "This is still something new for us," Taco says. "Late night presents some special logistic challenges, but we're fine-tuning our systems as we better understand the market."
A third site for cakes and sweets is at ladunibaking.square.site/shop/cakes/2. This remains one of LaDuni's most popular staples, for customers craving their trademark quatro leches cake, plus Nutella milk chocolate cake, milk chocolate cake pudding (vanilla sponge cake baked with milk chocolate custard and finished with chocolate ganache), and more.
The couple applied for a Payroll Protection Program loan but were unable to get through.
"Yes we applied to everything at every possible bank, but all we got was a busy phone line," he says. "So we did the sensible thing and worked like crazy — as if the restaurant business were not already crazy hard. We were down by 90 percent the first week, which was very scary, and we are now trending at 30 percent down from last year. We're not where we need to be, but there is hope."
"One thing we knew was that, if we closed it would be 10 times harder to reopen, if ever," he says. "So we are sharing every shift, every hour, every minute, amongst the 97 employees we had and do the best we can at the end of the day sharing any dollars left."
"The spirit is high and the staff is thankful for not giving up," he says. "So are we — for their amazing support and resilience. We have no idea where the dock is, but we can't just stop rowing. Some day it will reveal itself. Meanwhile, our philosophy is, share the love and have another jarcake. A day without cake is a day without love, and we need tons of love these days."
This weekend, they're launch a new concept called "Take out - Take Over - Pop Ups," in which chefs from other restaurants prepare their most beloved dishes.
It starts on April 25, from 6-8 pm, with a guest appearance by chef Hugo Galvan, who will make Cochinita Pibil street-style tacos at their McKinney Avenue location. Customers can place their order on the website then drive into the parking lot where Galvan will deliver the tacos straight from the grill to your car.
"If the night is nice, he will be cooking under a tent on the parking from our patio — true street tacos," Borga says.
Chefs already signed up for future pop-ups include such luminaries as Sharon Hage, Sharon Van Meter, David Holbein, Mirella Velazquez, Julia Lopez, and Joanne Bondy.
Go Fund Me
They've also created a Gofundme campaign for their workers and families.
"We have raised over $15,000 in customer donations through all of our team efforts," he says. "Some customers have shown up with $2,000 or $1,000 to distribute amongst the staff. It's been very rewarding to see that kind of support. We are still baking wedding, birthday, and divorce cakes. That is why we just can't stop and won't sleep until we win this battle."
"We are struggling but 136 families depend on us," he says. "Resilience, common sense, and perseverence will get us through. We have been serving our community for over 19 years and we refuse to give up for this or any other pandemic."