Stoking the Fires of an Old World Bakery

March 16, 2017 Lacee A.C. Martinez

Bearing the wear of time, the wood-and-tin pre-war homes still line sleepy San Jose Avenue in the picturesque southern village of Inarajan.

The George Flores History Center is the centerpiece of this historic district where a few days out of the week, smoke rises from a small shack attached to its side. It's where village resident Tony Mantanona, 50, runs The Hotnu Bakery, anchored by a traditional Spanish-style brick oven called "hotnu" in Chamorro. Before the war, the center was home to a general store and bakery, including the traditional hotnu.

The original oven was destroyed by the destructive winds of Typhoon Karen in 1962, but Mantanona was able to rebuild one through hard work and persistence. "This is Guam's  hotnu ," he said. "We had to collect bricks from around the island from the remaining, broken down  hotnus  to build it. So, that's why I say it's like Guam's  hotnu ."

Today, Mantanona's hotnu offers island residents and visitors a glimpse into the past with tastes of traditional breads and modern eats. The Bakery was born four years ago through a grant from the Guam Council on the Arts and Humanities, led by village historian Judy Flores. The oven was built by Edward Crisostomo, who also built the one at the neighboring Gef Pa'go cultural village. The combination of history center and bakery was meant to revitalize the shrinking Inarajan community, while maintaining the pre-war charm of the historic district.

The grant allowed Mantanona to work on an apprenticeship program with two other villagers, learning how to run and bake from the oven. The bakery ran as a business under Flores upon opening in October 2013, with Mantanona handling the reigns.

Photos and videos from customers circulated on social media, featuring an inferno of bamboo lit to heat the bricks of the 4-by 8-foot oven. Mantanona had help from his aunt in California to produce recipes for the soft, fresh breads.

It even became a location for village high school students to earn service-learning hours, working to run the oven while learning about its historical value. "But it was right before FestPac when Auntie Judy (Flores) gave me the hotnu. It was the best gift, just like the gift from my mom to learn the techniques," Mantanona said.

Coming from a very humble upbringing not far up the street from The Hotnu Bakery. Mantanona was child number 11 out of 12 raised by parents who endured the oppressive Japanese occupation. "We were too poor to have the luxuries of life, and sometimes we didn't even eat rice because it was too expensive. Sometimes we'd go without electricity because even that was too expensive. We sold our goods outside on the street like lemonade and mango and we even raised our own livestock," he reminisced.

Almost everything they ate was cooked over an open fire. Mantanona credited his mother for teaching him innovation, including making breads over a flame via a double boiler. "My siblings have the recipe for my mother's breads, but they won't give it to me because they know I'll give it all away," he said, smiling.

Mantanona’s old-fashioned upbringing resonates with the spirit of The Hotnu Bakery.  Profits are modest, enough to pay for supplies and his two employees. The bakery is open for just a few hours a week, 4 to 8 PM on Wednesdays and 9 AM to 3 PM on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s become sort of a southern destination where people come down for traditional pan tuba, cinnamon rolls, and even pizzas upon special order.

Every third Sunday of the month, the history center and bakery hosts the Inarajan street festival on San Jose Avenue, Ginen I Tano, where they invite other cultural practitioners, artisans, and vendors to set up shop. Tourists also make their way to the bakery, thanks to international media, for videos and photos.

Soon, Mantanona intends on lighting a fire on a new hotnu at Chamorro Village, giving more access to visitors and residents alike to the traditional Spanish oven. His success, so far, isn’t one he’s measuring in dollar bills. "It's about the traditional component that's opened up to the public. A lot of people are just amazed to see how these breads are being baked in the hotnu. It's bringing back a lot of memories and nostalgia, and that's the motivation for me to keep going,” he explained.

It’s also something Mantanona hopes to pass on to the next generation. “And I stand strongly to what I've always said about allowing the youth to help. Why not let them take part in this tradition, in this culture, in this village? Let them own it. The success is shown in seeing the people come down to see this. If they don't come down to support it, to see that there's a Spanish oven in operation, we wouldn't be where we are at right now," he expressed.


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