Tradition, family and pitch-perfect Cuban bread have kept an Ybor City bakery busy for more than a century.
By Dalia Colon
In 1915, Woodrow Wilson was in the White House, “Birth of a Nation” was No. 1 at the box office, and a gallon of gas would set you back around 15 cents. And in Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood, a co-op of artisans opened a trio of bakeries, aptly naming them La Primera, La Segunda and La Tercera.
When bakeries 1 and 3 went bust, Juan Moré bought out his partners. Catalonian by birth, Moré (rhymes with foray) had fought in the Spanish-American War in Cuba, where he fell in love with authentic Cuban bread. He brought the recipe to Florida, and La Segunda Central Bakery has been serving up crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside loaves of Cuban bread ever since.
A lot has changed since the bakery’s early days, but La Segunda remains a fixture in Ybor City—as much a symbol of the neighborhood as the rumbling streetcar or the feral roosters that strut around town.
“We keep going. I never thought it would do this. I know my father never thought it would do this,” third-generation owner Tony More says of La Segunda’s success. Born in 1942 and technically retired from the family business, Tony can still be found packing boxes of cookies and answering questions from pesky journalists.
All day long, the bakery’s door swings open and shut as a steady stream of customers squeezes into the lobby to pick up a loaf of Cuban bread to serve with dinner, a tray of sandwiches for the office luncheon or a steaming cup of coffee with milk.
“La Segunda’s continued existence offers warmth and comfort to Tampeños who love tradition,” says Patrick Manteiga, editor and publisher of the trilingual newspaper La Gaceta, itself an Ybor City institution since 1922. “It’s like dipping hot buttered Cuban bread into a great cup of café con leche in the morning—you know you’re in Tampa and that everything is going to be okay.”
La Segunda’s bread recipe remains unchanged, right down to the fresh palmetto leaf that’s baked into each 3-foot-long loaf, creating the bakery’s trademark split down the center. Tony admits that the leaves are getting harder to find in the city, but you don’t mess with tradition. The building still isn’t air-conditioned, meaning the temperature inside—and the bread itself—change with the seasons. Again, tradition. And no, La Segunda hasn’t jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon.
But there have been some innovations. These days, machines knead and cut the dough—work that was once done by hand. Another sign of the times: Alongside menu items like Cuban sandwiches, guava cheese turnovers and tres leches cake, you’ll find spinach salad, Coke products and avocado toast—albeit on Cuban bread. And Juan Moré’s descendants now answer to the surname More (rhymes with door), because it’s easier for gringos to pronounce.
The bakery cranks out 20,000 loaves a day of Cuban bread, shipping all the way to Alaska and, perhaps even more unbelievably, to Miami. Yep, in the ongoing Tampa-versus-Miami Cuban sandwich war, La Segunda supplies ammo for both sides.
One of the bakery’s biggest customers is Columbia Restaurant Group, whose flagship restaurant sits about a mile southeast of La Segunda. In business since 1905, the Columbia is Florida’s oldest restaurant and something of a big sister to La Segunda.
At the Columbia’s seven statewide locations, each meal begins with a loaf of La Segunda bread, toasted and served with whipped butter. La Segunda bread is also the centerpiece of the restaurant’s Cuban sandwich, white-chocolate bread pudding and other dishes.
“The world’s best Cuban bread is made at La Segunda Central Bakery in Ybor City,” says Richard Gonzmart, president and fourth-generation family member of the Columbia Restaurant Group. “Better than any bread you’ll find in Cuba. And I did go to Cuba, so I do know. Miami? That’s not Cuban bread.”
At Gonzmart’s South Tampa diner, Goody Goody, La Segunda bread is the basis of the menu’s OMG! French Toast and a key component of the Ybor City Breakfast.
“Dunking the bread into the café con leche is not required but highly encouraged for flavor and local authenticity,” Gonzmart says.
The flavor and local authenticity have expanded, with La Segunda recently adding locations in South Tampa and across the bay in St. Petersburg—projects that are largely overseen by Tony’s son, Copeland Moré, who was born in 1980 and grew up in the family business.
“I remember spending time with my family, especially my cousins, and helping during the busy holidays,” Copeland says. “Our main job was packing cookie boxes, packing bread and staying out of the way.”
Copeland credits La Segunda’s employees and the Tampa Bay community for the bakery’s continued success.
“So much support has been given over the years to us here locally, which drives us to uphold the quality standard,” he says. “The same can be said about the staff, who make La Segunda what it is. Everyone here is dedicated to quality and is passionate about the products we create daily.”
With dedication, passion and more than a century of experience baked into every loaf, La Segunda continues to supply customers near and far with their daily bread.
Dalia Colon, an Emmy-Award winning multimedia journalist, produces WUSF Public Media’s food podcast, The Zest. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times and on NPR.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2022 Issue of FORUM Magazine. Visit our collection at the USFSP Digital Archive by clicking here.
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