Street Week: Morrison Road

The Contreras family found a “better future” in a Westwood panaderia

About 5,000 baked goods get cranked out of the maroon building on the northeast end of Morrison Road.

Manuel Contreras (right) spins dough at his panaderia on Morrison Road. Sept. 10, 2021.

Manuel Contreras (right) spins dough at his panaderia on Morrison Road. Sept. 10, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
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Wander into Rosio Contreras’ business on any given day and you’ll likely find her scanning groceries or wrapping hot barbacoa. If you follow the sweet, ever-present aroma into the back, you’ll likely find her dad, Manuel, surrounded by baked goods. He starts work on the conchas, ojos de buey and more at 3 a.m. and says he makes about 5,000 every day.

The maroon, white trimmed building on the northeast end of Morrison Road is the third home of Contreras Market, where the family moved nine years ago this month. Rosio said their customers wanted more than just sweet bread, so it wasn’t long before they expanded their panaderia into a carniceria, grocery, restaurant and bar that takes up the entire strip mall.

Ojos de buey fresh out of the oven at Contreras Market on Morrison Road. Sept. 10, 2021.

Ojos de buey fresh out of the oven at Contreras Market on Morrison Road. Sept. 10, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

“We like this neighborhood, so that’s why we moved here. And we have a bunch of customers that we’ve known, too, for a long time,” she said. “It feels like home.”

Rosio grew up in Westwood, watching her father bake cakes as he worked to establish himself in America. Manuel grew up in Mexico.

“I think he wanted a better future for us, so we came here,” she said.

Rosio and Manuel Contreras in their taqueria on Morrison Road. Sept. 10, 2021.

Rosio and Manuel Contreras in their taqueria on Morrison Road. Sept. 10, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

She learned the tools of Manuel’s trade, then went to culinary school to help with the family business in a bigger way. Cakes became her specialty, and you can find her handiwork in a glass case right by the market’s entrance. Some drip with chocolate. Fresh fruit tops others, adding splashes of bright color to the display case. The orders are steady enough that Rosio usually works every day.

Rosio Contreras' cakes on sale at her family's market on Morrison Road. Sept. 10, 2021.

Rosio Contreras' cakes on sale at her family's market on Morrison Road. Sept. 10, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Business is good, she said, but the last year wasn’t easy. Like so many restaurants in Denver, the Contreras taqueria hit a wall when COVID-19 arrived in 2020. But Rosio said the grocery and baked goods kept selling as people began to cook more often at home. It’s one reason they survived the pandemic’s worst months without any emergency support.

She said her landlord didn’t cut them any breaks when business slowed, and they also didn’t apply for any stimulus packages, like the Payment Protection Program that helped a lot of locally owned enterprises stay afloat.

Hot lunch for sale at Contreras Market on Morrison Road. Sept. 10, 2021.

Hot lunch for sale at Contreras Market on Morrison Road. Sept. 10, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Gabriel Trejo works the carniceria counter at Contreras Market on Morrison Road. Sept. 10, 2021.

Gabriel Trejo works the carniceria counter at Contreras Market on Morrison Road. Sept. 10, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Rosio said someone did approach her, offering to file paperwork for a loan in exchange for $600. The proposition made her uneasy.

“We didn’t know if it was true or not,” she said, thinking back to the woman who walked into the market one day. “You know, a lot of bad things sometimes happen when filling out a lot of papers.”

She wasn’t the only one who went without help on Morrison Road. A lot of business owners here did not get much help from the federal government. When we spoke to entrepreneurs about this in May, people told us resources felt out of reach. Some hadn’t heard about the programs in time; others applied for all kinds of grants and loans but never made it through to approval.

Contreras Market on Morrison Road. Sept. 10, 2021.

Contreras Market on Morrison Road. Sept. 10, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The taqueria is still a little slow, she told us, but things will pick up. Rosio said she and her dad are feeling good about their continued stability in the heart of the neighborhood they call home.

Want some more? Explore other Street Week: Morrison Road stories.

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