Naomi Harris and Madruga Bakery

Creating a Local Institution

By Mike Clary

December 2019

After college, Naomi Harris spent a year and a half in Anchorage, Alaska, a climatic shock for a woman born and raised in South Florida. “Too cold, too far from home,” she says, recalling her winter in the frozen north. But there in the subarctic, working at the small, family-owned Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop, Harris found the inspiration that would lead her back to South Florida to open a bakery of her own.

Madruga Bakery, just three years old in January, has become a Coral Gables institution. Loyal fans, who patiently wait in lines that can stretch to the door, come back again and again for the fresh-made breads, cookies, muffins, croissants, and alfajores (dulce de leche sandwich cookies), along with a full menu of nutritious offerings for breakfast and lunch, and a warm, inviting environment.

The goal, says Harris, is to run a bakery that is also a place where the community gets together. “We are so happy to hear from people who come every day, for bread, for coffee, for a salad. It becomes a part of their life,” she says. One of those repeat customers is Dickie Davis, a neighborhood resident who retired as director of public relations and digital marketing at Miami International Airport. “There is just a feeling here,” Davis said recently over her usual – an iced latte and the print edition of The New York Times. “An original menu, fresh organic food, and a welcoming, cheerful staff.”

Madruga Bakery is an artisanal, all-natural bakery. Many of the bread products begin with a sourdough starter that is nurtured daily, the catalyst for a mixture of water, leavening agents, and heirloom grains milled on premise. The popularity of Madruga means that Harris now spends more time as a manager than as a baker, a diminutive but firm presence in the busy swirl of cooks, bakers, servers and cleanup crews. But she still spends at least one shift a week with the bread team, staying connected to the elemental, satisfying act of kneading and shaping loaves. There, elbow-deep in flour, Harris is reminded of what attracted her to baking in the first place.

As a student at Palmetto High School, she began baking challah bread as a community service project with her B’nai B’rith chapter, which delivered the bread to a home for senior citizens. As a student at Northwestern University in Illinois, she continued to bake as a hobby. “I always found baking fascinating,” Harris says. “It’s alive, and there are so many factors that can go into the bread. Does it need to rise less, rise more, need water? It’s very tactile. You are always responding to it, and learning.” The bread-making process at Madruga – in an open kitchen intentionally visible to customers – lasts two days. The process starts before dawn, fitting for a shop whose name (the same as the street which it fronts) comes from the Spanish verb meaning to get up early. Bread started that morning ends up as loaves and sandwich slices the next day.

Harris is a third-generation food entrepreneur. Her great-grandfather started Red Road Food Market in South Miami. Naomi’s dad Larry and her uncle Stuart started Pollo Tropical, which they sold in 1998. Just how well Harris has melded family heritage and her own training to create a thriving bread shop became evident in February, when Harris received a James Beard Nomination as a semi-finalist for Outstanding Baker. The following month the city recognized her contribution to local cuisine with a certificate of appreciation.

There are times when the 36-seat bakery seems too small to accommodate all those who show up, especially on weekends. Yet Harris says she has no plans to move or expand. “We are hitting some limits on space, and we’re trying to rework that,” she says. “But I love the physical location and the support of those who live and work around here.”

Madruga Bakery
1430 S. Dixie Highway (at Madruga Ave. and Madruga Ct.)