PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARGAUX GIBBONS
Everything’s coming up aces as Salinas bakery turns five
Adrian Jimenez had faith that her dream of owning her own bakery would come to pass, even though she had never done anything like it before, had no experience managing an actual storefront and didn’t even have money for the first month’s rent on a tiny space in Oldtown Salinas.
But her friend Terri Madrid pushed her. And Jimenez jumped in. She launched a Kickstarter campaign to get her fledgling business off the ground in 2015, and miraculously, by the end of the campaign, she had raised $13,000—enough to cover rent plus equipment and remodeling.
That’s how Blue Aces Bake Shoppe came to be. “I didn’t choose it; it chose me,” Jimenez says. But how it has grown is another story altogether.
Jimenez’s little bakery is now a beloved Oldtown institution, offering exquisite pies, cakes, pastries and various other handcrafted delights. Madrid’s Gold Leaf Tea, which originally occupied the space, is next door. The bakery is definitely Jimenez’s happy place, full of beautifully decorated treats that range from bite-sized indulgences to familypleasing cakes and pies.
Blue Aces is famous for its macarons, the French almond cookies with ganache filling, and offers a flavor menu each month to tempt customers. But beyond macarons, there are seasonal cookies, tarts and cannolis, as well as vegan, sugar-free and gluten-free goodies. In addition, Jimenez and her team of six also create special orders for weddings, corporate events and birthdays.
“It’s been absolutely wonderful,” Jimenez says of the past five years—the bakery celebrates its anniversary in January. “This is my art form.”
And although the bakery is now in its busiest time of the year— Jimenez calls it “absolutely a whirlwind”—she welcomes every hectic moment: “The holidays are huge for us.”
Her journey into baking began when she was six years old and made her first cake, in the shape of a bunny, complete with black licorice whiskers. She spent many happy hours in the kitchen with her mother and her aunt, times she never forgot, even though as an adult she began a completely different career as a housing project manager.
But after years of that work, she realized that she needed something more. “I was not happy in the corporate environment,” says Jimenez. “I had had my second child and wanted more time with my family…I wanted to put my energy somewhere else.”
Jimenez decided to indulge her creative side and go to culinary school. It rekindled her lifelong love of baking, and soon she found herself taking on catering jobs. One of her clients was Madrid of Gold Leaf Tea.
When Madrid decided to move her tea room to a larger space in 2014, she immediately called Jimenez and said, “You need to take this spot.” This kind of encouragement from another female entrepreneur was just what Jimenez needed to make her leap of faith.
“Our community has been wonderful to us. I was born and raised in Salinas and there’s a huge sense of community pride here,” says Jimenez. “Oldtown has the vibe of Main Street U.S.A.—it’s the heart of the community. I love it here.”
Jimenez has gotten big-time support, not just from other business owners but also from her husband Juan Saldana, who co-owns Blue Aces with her. The bakery is named for their two children, Antonio Blue and Acen, ages 12 and 6. “They have a great sense of pride in the bakery,” says Jimenez. “They want to work with me.”
No doubt Jimenez will appreciate their help eventually since the bakery’s business is growing rapidly, bolstered by mouthwatering photos of its wares on social media.
That’s why she is now looking for a larger space, one where she dreams of holding classes for children and adults. And—more importantly—she’d like a back entrance to make it easier for people to pick up orders, and dedicated parking.
Blue Aces has become known for its Día de los Muertos goodies, like decorated sugar skulls, but that’s just the beginning of the bakery’s extensive holiday season. Special themes also create buzz, like the Harry Potter day in the week before Halloween. The shop is ramping up its stock of pies for the holidays, since there is no other dedicated pie shop in Salinas.
Jimenez is bubbling over with other ideas for holiday offerings, like retro sugar cookies and Lebkuchen, puffy German gingerbread, for Christmas. “It’s absolutely one of my favorite things to make,” she says. She’s also hoping to adapt some of her grandmother’s recipes for pies, holiday desserts and candies to sell in the shop.
In addition, Blue Aces is a vendor for two popular pre-Christmas artisan fairs, Flair on the Farm in Salinas and Goat Hill Fair in Watsonville, and then there are all those holiday catering and special orders for corporate gift giving.
It’s a lot to take on, and as you can imagine, Jimenez works many 12- to 14-hour days, often starting at 3am. But she’s not complaining.
“I used to be exhausted working eight hours a day,” she says of her former corporate job. “Now, I’m not tired. I’m very passionate about what I’m doing.”
BLUE ACES BAKE SHOPPE
8 W. Gabilan St., Salinas
Hand-Rolled Chocolate Truffles
RECIPE: Courtesy Adrian Jimenez, co-owner, Blue Aces Bake Shoppe in Salinas
PHOTOGRAPHY: Margaux Gibbons
This recipe will be a crowd pleaser in any household, and is so simple—only two ingredients are required for the base—and there’s plenty of room for imagination and creativity in flavorings and coatings. It’s delicious, wholesome fun and makes a great gift for the holidays.
Kathryn McKenzie, who grew up in Santa Cruz and now lives on a Christmas
tree farm in north Monterey County, writes about sustainable living,
home design and health for numerous publications and websites.