A woman’s dream: Antigua Bakery & Café offers comfortable setting with plenty of feel-good food

2021-01-08 14:39:07

As an avid singles tennis player, being her own team has always been her strength. However, a new challenge got her playing on a different kind of field.

Leticia Garcia, 66, moved to Harlingen at the age of 5. She attended Harlingen High School, and then went to college in Kingsville to major in accounting but did not finish.

Leticia got married in 1974 and moved to Toledo, Ohio, for 10 years. Her husband was then transferred across the country several times. Once he retired, the couple knew they wanted to go back to Harlingen, which they did in 2008.

Leticia had always wanted to open a restaurant but never had the courage to do it alone. One day, she met someone at the gym who told her about the idea of opening a business. They partnered up and worked together for three months, but then went their separate ways. Leticia is a mother of four boys, and once her last one went off to college, she thought of what was next for her.

Antigua Bakery & Café, located at 1022 E. Harrison Ave. in Harlingen, was created almost eight years ago and will be celebrating its anniversary in February 2021.

“It had been my dream,” she said. “I love to cook and bake. My kids grew up with desserts every single day of their lives. They would bring their friends over from college to try my food.”

Although the thought of going back and finishing school was on her plate, accounting was not her passion. Her heart was in cooking.

“My husband wanted me to go back and go to night school, but it did not interest me anymore,” she said. “I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do.”

The entire restaurant resembles Leticia’s personality and aura. The decór is warm and inviting. Leticia said her clients describe it to be very homey.

“Almost everything is from our house — kind of Hispanic and Southwest,” Leticia said.

After the first year of leasing, Leticia bought the property, knowing it was a big step to take forward.

“I am not a quitter. I wanted to do this,” she said. “I think having another person to ask me to want to start something, I think that is what I needed, just a little push.”

Back when Leticia lived out of state, her friends wanted her to start a restaurant, but she did not feel ready.

“I couldn’t do it on my own, and I was very involved with my kids,” she said. “And I didn’t want to be tied down. It wasn’t the time.”

Over the years, Antigua has surpassed the expectations Leticia had at the beginning.

“We never advertise, it has been word of mouth,” she said. “We have a lot of repeat customers, and I thought we would be busy just during the Winter Texan season. But we are busy year round.”

Her customers have told her that Harlingen needed a place like hers. She believes the quaint quality of the place serves as the main attraction.

“It’s not a chain,” she said. “It is unusual we get a group that is loud. Some ladies come in here for two or three hours, which is fine with us. They enjoy the atmosphere.”

Leticia said she has faithful clients who keep coming back, such as Southwest Airlines flight attendants.

Although she is the owner, that doesn’t mean she has days off. She works every day whenever Antigua is open. The business is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. However, she arrives as early as 8 a.m., and if someone calls and asks for something, she will make it for them.

As a business owner, Leticia has had the privilege of being her own boss, which she said she enjoys.

“You make the decisions. It’s all on you,” she said. “I have always been a singles tennis player, and I always felt, if I make a mistake it’s on me. I don’t have a partner to blame and they can’t blame me.”

However, she acknowledges she can make mistakes. Leticia said that she makes herself accountable to be and do better.

“We hear the comments and that just keeps me going,” she said. “We are doing a good thing. Hopefully, we can go on for a few more years.”

Antigua focuses on feel-good comfort food, but it isn’t your typical Mexican type of restaurant. She offers a variety of pastries, baked goods, quiches and different salads.

What makes Antigua special is that everything is homemade by Leticia and her staff — who put their hearts into it.

“I wish I had more hours in the day,” she said. “I love to cook and bake.”

Many of her recipes have been around for 30 to 40 years, going back to when she started cooking for her own family. At the beginning, Antigua only offered around five sandwiches and now, there is a variety of almost 40.

Leticia said a few of her friends have given her recipes, but she does her own twist with them. She also writes down recipes from the Food Network that peak her interest.

In her free time, she continues to play tennis and has been playing in Harlingen for 10 years.

“Wherever we move to, tennis ladies have been my family,” she said. “I like to be healthy. It is a wonderful sport you can play year round. I took a class in college and got hooked in the early ’70s.”

Leticia said that she is a competitive woman, but when it comes to her business, she is not focused on competition.

“I am glad there are more businesses starting up, and I am sad to see some of them not making it,” she said. “But it is a lot of work. A lot more work than I ever thought.”

The restaurant owner stressed the importance of her being on the clock every day, and she thanks her devoted customers for her success.

“They are the ones spreading the word and enjoy being here,” she said. “We get orders from the school district, hospitals. They are happy.”

Her customers have enjoyed Antigua greatly throughout the years. They even asked her to open up new locations. However, Leticia wants to stay in Harlingen and keep working on her one-and-only spot.

“I just want to stay small and unique,” she said. “This is all I can handle. If I was 20 years younger maybe.”

Her bestselling items include her carrot cake, lemon lush squares, cheesecakes, chicken salad, chicken avocado and her portobello mushroom soup.

Leticia said she believed Antigua would only last around a year, but she has been surprised to see it is still around and enjoys the new generations who come to visit.

She said she wants to make her customers happy, and as a result, that makes her happy too.

“I have given recipes out before and they keep telling me, ‘It doesn’t come out like mine,’ and I say, ‘You have to put some love,’” she said.

Pride in the kitchen goes a long way, and Leticia stresses that lesson to her workers..

“I tell my employees, ‘Don’t just make it, you have to be proud of what you are making,’” she said. “And I am. I always have.”