ROCK FALLS – Dave’s Coffee Cakes, a small bakery at 209 Second Ave., has been in operation by the Barajas family for 18 years. It is known for its variety of “special recipe, small-batch” coffee cakes.
However, the family’s roots and community service history stretch back further.
So much so that Dave’s Coffee Cakes was recognized this year for those contributions by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. During Hispanic Heritage Month, Dave’s was among those Hispanic-owned small businesses recognized for its impact on the community.
“I’ve never had just one job. It’s not about the money,” founder Dave Barajas Sr. said. “Yes, you need money to pay for the business and the families working there. But it’s about doing your best to serve your fellow man, and we’ve had the opportunity to help a lot of people through this business, and that is what I want it to be.”
Barajas always has made a point to stay active within the community. During his 24 years working at Northwestern Steel and Wire as a nail repairman, he served on the Sterling Public Schools board from 1977-1989. He also served four terms as a Sterling Township Supervisor.
“To this day, I feel strongly about the school district, but as I got into the township, I realized there were other things I could do to help,” Barajas said.
As a township supervisor, Barajas helped initiate the Youth Services Program. The program featured conflict-resolution training and hired high school students to tutor grade school children. As a result, many of those young kids became tutors and mentors – spending time with and taking their students to activities and sporting events.
“Out of that came some terrific things. We were not planning it, but in essence, we started the mentoring program as well,” Barajas said.
Barajas also has been a member of the Twin Cities Educational Scholarship Committee, the YMCA Board and the Self-Help Foundation Board, and he co-owns and runs La Familia restaurant in Rock Falls.
As for the bakery, it employs more than 30 families, and Barajas feels a personal commitment to each of them.
“I welcome the responsibility because of what Mom and Dad did,” Barajas tearfully admits. “I saw in them such integrity. Watching them, I realized the responsibility you have to hold things together for families that are counting on you.”
Born and raised in Sterling, Barajas and his 10 siblings grew up on Wallace St. near the steel mill. Fond memories of the mill’s shift-change whistle still play in his head, along with the smell of his father’s White Owl cigars.
“The mill was a big part of everyone’s lives back then. I still remember watching in awe as everyone was coming and going while waiting for Dad,” Barajas recalls. “I just think about what my mom and dad went through. Raising 11 kids and holding their family together.”
Three children became veterans, two teachers, and all eight brothers worked alongside their father at the Sterling mill. Barajas’ mother, Mary, ran the household, sold Avon door-to-door, tended a garden in the family’s backyard, and was even voted Mother of the Year by the Latin American Social Club in 1964. Barajas takes great pride in his parents and the work ethic they instilled in him.
“Now my only wish is to free up some of my time so that I can do more,” Barajas said. “You can always do something to help if you look hard enough.”