Juan More came to Tampa after fighting with the Spanish army in the revolution of 1875 in Cuba. When More arrived in Tampa he had a piece of paper tucked in his pocket that contained his Cuban bread recipe. That recipe would change the face of breadmaking in Tampa for generations to come.
Cuban bread wasn’t always a long thin loaf of bread, but was originally a short round loaf. According to historian Tony Pizzo, Cuban bread changed its shaped during the Cuban war for independence. “The war caused a shortage of flour, and the resourceful Cubans converted the conventional round loaf into a long thin shape," Pizzo wrote. "This made it practical to cut into pieces for rationing.” Cuban bread makers never switched back. This way of making Cuban bread gives a crispy, flaky crust on the outside and a soft, spongy texture on the inside.
While the ingredients to make Cuban bread are not out of the ordinary, it’s the process that makes the bread so unique. Palmetto leaves are an important step during the process of making Cuban bread. They lay flat on top of the bread while it bakes to a crisp. This helps to keep the moisture inside. Cuban bread also is an important ingredient when making local food such as Cuban sandwiches and deviled crabs.
Bakeries all over Tampa have taken advantage of the recipe brought over by Juan More, keeping locals satisfied by baking their favorite loaf of bread. One of the first bakeries in Ybor was opened by Francisco Ferlita, who came to Ybor in 1896 from Sicily. Ferlita opened La Joven Francesa Bakery, also known as the Ferlita Bakery, the same year he arrived in Ybor. The bakery was first built as a wooden structure, which was destroyed in a fire in 1922. The only item that was saved from the fire was one of the brick ovens where Cuban bread was made. In 1924, the building was reconstructed and remodeled using bricks, and the business continued. About 35,000 loaves of bread were made weekly and delivered by hanging Cuban bread on nails that were placed outside locals’ front doors.
Ferlita’s sons Stephen, Angelo, Joe, Tony, and John took over the bakery after he passed away in 1931. They continued the legacy of making Cuban bread until 1973. The bakery still stands today and was renovated in 1977 as the Ybor State Museum, where those who are interested in Ybor can learn its unique cultural history.
A Cuban recipe, brought to Tampa by a Spanish immigrant, and baked to perfection by an Italian-born baker. Cuban bread offers a perfect metaphor for the remarkable multi-ethnic culture of Ybor City.