On a corner of Davis Street and Clinton Avenue in Oak Cliff, a stone’s throw from the Kessler Theater, Manuel Tellez’s Maroches Bakery sells the most decadent pan de muerto in Dallas—the sweet, orange blossom-scented bread that’s as symbolic as orange marigolds or painted sugar skulls for the Mexican Day of the Dead.
A former plumber and KNON DJ, Tellez opened the family bakery in 2000 after word spread of his homemade tres leches and other baked goods. From the beginning, in addition to flan and the domed, feather-light conchas with their toppings of pink and yellow sugar, Tellez sold pan de muertos, his version of the bread fashioned from hulking bags of King Arthur flour, and rich with butter and eggs. I always start looking for the sweet, exceptionally fragrant bread in August (in Mexico, it represents a whole season leading up to what in English would be All Soul’s Night). But the big event is Tellez’s Dia de los Muertos festival, planned this year for November 4.
It began as a small table where Tellez sold his pan de muerto and a few sweets and has grown in its 18th year into a full day of traditional food, music, handicrafts, and folklorico dance. Smoke from grills charring taco meat curls and children crowd the face-painting booth. He’s been invited to set up versions for festivals within driving distance on various weekends surrounding the occasion. Few, he says, bake the bread with a traditional recipe.
“We do it the way you would in Mexico,” says Tellez, whose family is from various parts of Mexico and who remembers visits to the graveyard on the Day of the Dead.
His bakery itself is a small cultural hub, and the Day of the Dead altar Tellez sets up inside grows every year, with additions such as sugar skulls made by a friend and hand-crafted chocolate skulls from Oak Cliff chocolatier CocoAndré. Always, pan de muerto lies at the heart.
“It’s not a holiday,” Tellez says. “It belongs to the nation. It represents the beginning and the end. The one day,” he continues, “when the souls can cross over,” referring in a phrase full of imagery, to the traditional symbolism of the story-swirled event.