The Great Mosaic: Allan’s Bakery serves up PLG for over 60 years

Jordan Smith-Fernandez, Sharon Smith and Bianca Smith-Fernandez

Allan’s Bakery, a third-generation family-owned and operated bakery in Prospect Lefferts Garden, has served Brooklyn for over 60 years. Best known for its currant rolls, beef and saltfish patties, and other sweet confections, the bakery continues to spread Caribbean culture throughout the community.

Christian Smith, the grandson of Allan and Gloria Smith who founded the bakery, told Brooklyn Paper that his grandparents immigrated to the US in the early 50s to find work.

Smith’s grandfather Allan was born in St. Vincent, while his grandmother Gloria grew up in Panama.

“In Panama as a woman of color, it is challenging to find work with a darker complexion,” Smith said. “So my great grandma, her mother, urged my grandma to move to America for opportunities.”

For a while, Smith’s grandparents worked in industries beyond food; Gloria worked at a typewriter company and Allan worked at hospitals. Eventually, when his grandparents had met, they started a family together.

Smith told Brooklyn Paper that his grandparents did not come with the anticipation of opening a bakery, but his grandfather had experience using ovens from when he worked at the hospital, so he began baking at home.

Allan and Gloria then began selling Allan’s pastries in 1958 out of their station wagon at cricket games. Once they gained enough income with the help of family and friends, they opened the first location of Allan’s Bakery in Weeksville.

After a while, as the business grew in popularity and Allan and Gloria realized they would need a larger space, they decided to move the bakery to its current location on Nostrand Avenue.

As part of the family-business, Smith has always been involved with the bakery, as he recalled the early 5 a.m. mornings, sleeping on the way to the bakery and helping his mother prepare the dough for the day.

Smith described how each family member would be doing something different for the business: his mother would oversee production, his grandmother would manage the books and cash flow, while his aunts would oversee customer service and cousins would help out around the bakery.

“It has been great to be around family,” Smith said.

As a buyer at Saks Fifth Avenue, Smith spends less time at the bakery now, but still remains invested in the family business.

“I do everything I can, I don’t necessarily have set tasks,” Smith said.

From baking, to negotiating with manufacturers about baking equipment to overseeing the bakery’s local delivery platforms, Smith does “whatever needs to be done” around the bakery.

More recently, Smith described how he navigated a challenge with a recipe with his family.

“Recently, sponge cake has been a challenge so I tweaked the recipe a bit with my mom and in turn, rather than just saying ‘this is the recipe,’ we shared it with family [for feedback],” Smith said. “It’s been great to be around family and learn from everyone since we all teach each other things.”

Being part of the family business has not only taught Smith valuable lessons about working together as a family, but it has also given him insight into running a business.

“It’s been a great experience to have family around to provide perspective on how business should operate,” Smith said. “It’s interesting because it’s a different element or supporting comparison to the way another corporation is run.”

Aside from the many lessons Smith has learned while working at the bakery, he also described how it has brought the people in his life together, becoming what he described as a meeting place for family and friends. 

“Random colleagues of mine will even pop in and ask if they can help us with anything,” Smith said. “The bakery is somewhere [friends] know they can find us and somewhere we know we can find them.”

While the bakery has brought Smith’s family and friends closer, it has also brought the community together through its annual fourth of July BBQ.

Smith said that the BBQ initially began as a gathering of family and friends that quickly grew into a larger event each passing year.

“My family likes to party and they like to have a reason to host and celebrate an event or life so I think that’s how it came to be,” Smith said.

Growing from around 15 family members and friends to thousands of people, Allan’s Bakery Annual BBQ has live performances, various food vendors and dancing throughout the evening.

Although last year and this year’s BBQ have been canceled due to COVID, the family hopes to be able to host the BBQ again next year.

As Allan and Gloria, at 88 and 82 years of age, continue to remain busy at the bakery, their family’s goal is to not only keep their customers happy, but to maintain Caribbean culture in Brooklyn, something he hopes to see improve within the community.

The bakery is best known for its sweet currant rolls, which have flaky pastry crusts and are filled with currants. Allan’s Bakery also serves beef and saltfish patties, along with many other Caribbean confections.

“So many people do not know what Caribbean baked goods are,” Smith said. “People ask me all the time: ‘do we make cannolis?’ [to which I say] ‘no, they are popular, but they’re not Caribbean’ — there’s more out there to appreciate.”

Reflecting on his childhood growing up in an immigrant family, Smith said that it has provided him with the understanding that “not one perspective is the most important or the right one because everyone comes from different places.”

“It is good that we allow immigrants to come,” Smith said. “People bring elements to our community and it’s important to take those perspectives on.”

When asked if he had advice for other immigrant families, Smith stressed the importance of working together.

“Strive to agree on what is best for the family, always have an open mind and understand that everyone has a different perspective and try to include everyone’s perspective when deciding how to move forward with anything,” Smith said.

The Great Mosaic is a new column focused on immigrant success stories. To share your story, email [email protected].