By: Victor Jorges/Assistant News Director
When Harry and Michelle Coleman graduated from FIU in 2008 with a journalism degree, the industry was down. Now, they’re the owners of Empanada Harry’s Bakery and Cafe, a comfort food establishment fusing Hispanic tradition with innovative culinary trends that has been open for two years.
However, prior to this, they got a trial run by taking over the family business: Charlotte Bakery. This bakery was located in South Beach.
They sold it after 20 years in order to dedicate themselves to their new business venture.
“We ran that one for ten years, and then we opened our own thing with our own concept and to do what we wanted to do, which was a Miami style bakery,” said owner Harry Coleman.
Harry and Michelle met during their time as writers for The Beacon, now known as PantherNOW. They have been together for 14 years, and married for 11.
“I worked at the Beacon for four years. I was a writer, sports editor, news editor and editor-in-chief. It was a great experience, you learn so much. That’s where I met Michelle,” said Harry. “We got married at the Bill Baggs lighthouse in Key Biscayne, at the beacon. Working together enabled us to think of our future.”
Aside from using the knowledge they acquired at the paper to avoid grammatical mistakes on their menus, as they joke, they also learned more lessons about how to run a business and relate to people.
“Journalism really does help you open up to people, makes you feel comfortable talking to people, asking questions,” said Michelle. “The publicity and advertising side of it, when you’re in journalism, when you’re at a paper, they make you understand that everything has to be credible, factual, ethical, but there is the aspect that it needs to produce money.”
Michelle and Harry pride themselves in being a third generation baking family, and their diverse family background plays a role in what they prepare daily.
“I’m from Venezuela, but my parents are from Chile and my grandparents are from England and Scotland,” said Harry. “Michelle she was born in Puerto Rico but her mom is French and her dad is Cuban. We have a huge mix. We incorporate all those countries in our food.”
While Harry manages the kitchen, Michelle takes care of the front of the house, making sure all the customers are having pleasant experiences. She also looks over all the bills and paperwork.
“I love people. I’m very social, and I love talking to people. I really like forming this 50s style environment where people come in and I see their kids, and I get to see them grow, and I get to talk to the parents,” said Michelle.
The Colemans are proud that their bakery is close to FIU, and they believe that their success has to do with the diversity that characterizes the University.
“We’re not too far from FIU, we keep FIU close to heart.” said Harry. “What we learned, even though we’re doing food, and I graduated with a journalism degree is that nobody can take away that education. We apply all those skills to the food business.”
The usual day at the bakery starts around 5 a.m. with 23 of the 40 empanada flavors being available daily. A team that started with four, and quickly grew to 12 employees, bakes and runs the store under Michelle and Harry’s direct supervision.
The flavors can vary immensely, as they try to include global elements into traditional and iconic Hispanic items.
“We always have an empanada of the month. It can be kind of crazy, like this month we did spinach infused dough for St. Patricks. The dough is actually green, but without coloring. We did it with corned beef and hash inside and potatoes and cabbage. That was our idea of incorporating the Irish tradition into an empanada,” said Harry.
The bakery has also developed empanadas with smoked pork, Korean barbeque and truffle bacon mac and cheese. In the Colemans’ opinion, their bakery encompasses what Miami is.
“What we try to do here is combine Miami’s melting pot into one bakery. Here you’re getting stuff from Venezuela, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, with the flavors of Miami. That’s what defines our city,” said Harry. “What we try to do here is exactly what Miami is.”
Photos by Victor Jorges/PantherNOW