A Santa Ana bakery that has been at the center of a criminal investigation since selling a holiday bread that sickened more than 40 customers reopened Wednesday, though police have not determined how the bread became tainted with synthetic marijuana.
Cholula’s Bakery was closed after dozens of people reported becoming ill, several saying they suffered hallucinations. Santa Ana police later opened an investigation that determined the wreath-shaped three king bread had been laced with a synthetic marijuana.
The bread — known as rosca de reyes — was distributed to other stores in Orange County and Long Beach.
The bakery’s closure interrupted a long-running relationship with residents and workers along 17th Street, a boulevard jammed with taquerias, discount stores and auto body shops.
“Every day, I stop by to drink coffee and eat bread, and everything tastes just great,” said Efrain Quintanilla, a line server at Hometown Buffet, the largest business in the strip mall where the bakery has operated for more than 14 years. “I come in, I watch the soccer games, and it’s like I’m spending time with a friend.”
Rosi Cazarez, a waitress, said she was concerned that rumors and speculation had outpaced the facts.
“It’s unfair that this is happening and that it could hurt a local family business,” said Cazarez, who says she bought a $25 rosca de reyes for her family and that nobody became ill.
But Gerardo Ramirez, the manager of a market in Orange that sells breads from the Santa Ana bakery, said he was among the dozens who were sickened. His father and four of his co-workers became ill as well, he said.
Ramirez, 26, said he ordered a special cake, one filled with raisins, walnuts and guava jelly, that he shared with his employees one afternoon. He said he later became dizzy and headed home with his father.
A short distance from the store, Ramirez said, he became so disoriented that he pulled over to let his father drive. He said his mouth was dry and his heart pounding. By the time they got home, he said, his father felt similar sensations.
Ramirez said he called the market and told them to take the holiday bread off the shelves. He remembered that a cashier had become ill the day before after snacking on samples.
Regulars of the bakery said they were unaware anything was amiss until the shop suddenly closed. Several days later, the owners put up a message on Facebook saying they were working with health department officials to resolve the problem.
“Again, we are apologetic and in a way ashamed this happened to our customers,” the post read.
Online records from the last two years show county inspectors cited the business for more than 30 violations, including improper hand-washing and incorrect holding temperatures.
“There are many speculations to what might have happened but the truth is that no one has been able to actually determine where the “synthetic drug” came from. We continue to cooperate with the investigation and hope it comes to a conclusion soon,” the bakery’s owners said on Facebook.
“We welcome all of our loyal customers and invite any customers who doubt the quality of our product.”
Follow @emfoxhall on Twitter.