Juan Carlos Soto has been selling pan dulce, empanadas and other baked goods for more than 25 years, but last year, Zeledon’s Bakery on Wheels went viral on TikTok and things have never been the same—in the sweetest possible way, that is.
“Ever since we went viral, our sales went crazy,” he said. “We’re getting phone calls from China, Mexico—you name it.”
Zeledon’s Bakery on Wheels is a partnership between Soto and his nephew, Ernesto Botello. Their panaderia has grown a ride-or-die following in the San Jose area. Now, they’re planning to put down roots in a permanent location.
These days, finding the pan dulce van is not unlike a treasure hunt. Some customers simply track Zeledon’s Instagram stories, where Botello posts the intersections and parking lots where they’re planning to park. Others rise to the bugle call of “La Cucaracha”—Soto and Botello blast the song out of the van’s speakers, much like an ice cream truck or produce cart would. They don’t usually stay in any one location for longer than an hour, so it can be a hustle to get your fix.
“I always try to hit up all the spots where it’s hot and eventually that fire burns out,” Botello told The Standard. “So I’m always on the move.”
This feeling of sweet spontaneity inspired a series of TikToks where customers sprint to reach the bakery on wheels. In other videos, customers pick out their favorite treat from the back of the van, which is packed to the gills with Mexican sweet breads, elote, tamales, empanadas, donuts and muffins.
After a few of these TikToks went viral last summer, Soto and Botello received calls from The Today Show, NBC Bay Area and Telemundo Área de la Bahía, making three TV appearances within a monthlong period.
Now, Soto and Botello plan to open a forever home—not in San Jose, but in Los Banos, a town in the San Joaquin Valley, southwest of Merced. Once they open that brick-and-mortar panaderia, Soto plans to focus on that business and leave the nomadic bakery to his nephew, who will hopefully add more roving trucks to the fleet.
Though Soto hasn’t set a date or exact location yet, he said he’s looking forward to reaching as many customers across California as possible.
“People love it, and we love to see them smile,” he said.
Sarah Holtz can be reached at [email protected]