Eric Arillo and Dale Ralston, the owners behind Mexican pan dulce bakery La Calavera in Kirkwood, are known for their signature super sourdough loaves, along with treats such as marranitos (gingerbread pigs), sweet concha breads, and seasonal baked goods.
La Calavera began as a farmers market-only endeavor years ago. After finding success on the market circuit, the couple opened a permanent location in 2014 on East College Avenue in Decatur. Arillo and Ralston just recently relocated the shop to Memorial Drive to be closer to the neighborhoods where they continue to sell their breads at area farmers markets and have developed a solid customer base who now frequent the bakery.
Arillo was born in Huecorio in central Mexico, but grew up in Atlanta. He recalls being inspired by his mother’s baking from an early age. After working in restaurants in Atlanta throughout his teens, Arillo returned to Mexico and entered a culinary program, which rekindled his love of baking.
Before moving back to Atlanta to be closer to family, Arillo and Ralston lived for a time in Huecorio and fondly remember their favorite time of year in Mexico: Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). The celebratory holiday falls between November 1 and November 2 and centers around the belief that the spirits of deceased loved ones visit their families. It seemed only natural to name their bakery La Calavera or “the skull.”
“Food, especially bread, has a special place in the traditions of Dia de los Muertos, so we chose the skull, another important part of the holiday, as our name and logo,” explains Ralston.
The couple claim their bakery is unique in Atlanta, as it offers traditional Mexican pan dulce (sweet bread and treats) and original takes on other Mexican-inspired baked goods not typically found within the city. This includes their popular sourdoughs, whole grain breads, and other specialty loaves.
“One of our sourdoughs is a long-fermented bread (the dough rests for a whole week before being baked,) which not only makes it extra tangy and delicious, but also easier to digest for some gluten-sensitive people,” Ralston says. “This is because the longer fermentation time allows for the gluten to become more broken down in the final product.”
While La Calavera regulars pop in to purchase the daily-baked breads, the bakery is equally known for its seasonal specialties. This includes a Dia de los Muertos staple called pan de muerto — a sweet bread honoring deceased loved ones topped with dough shaped like bones — and the Christmas bread rosca de reyes (kings’ ring) served throughout December until Epiphany on January 6.
Similar to the king cake, also served during the Christmas season, rosca de reyes is a large sweet bread formed into a ring. La Calavera tops their rosca de reyes with shortbread, candied citrus, and other fruits.
“There’s a little baby in the bread,” Ralston says. “If you find it in your piece of the rosca, you’ve got to throw a party in February and serve tamales, according to Mexican tradition!”
La Calavera is currently taking rosca de reyes orders for Christmas Eve pick-up through Sunday, December 22. A large ring costs $24 and serves six to ten people. Individual mini roscas are also available.
Holiday hours: Open Christmas Eve, 7 a.m. to 12 p.m.; Closed Christmas Day, Thursday, December 26 through Friday, December 27, and New Year’s Day.
Regular hours: Tuesday - Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
1696 Memorial Drive SE, Atlanta. lacalaverabakery.wordpress.com.