Last updated on January 29, 2024
As a high school teacher, Sayda Rapalo encouraged her students to follow their dreams. To pursue their passion. To reach for the stars.
That script flipped one day when the students posed the same question to her: What are your dreams?
“One day,” Rapalo recalled telling them, “I want to be a pastry chef in France.”
It was in that moment that Rapalo knew she had to heed her own advice and pursue her passion for baking and cooking. So, shortly after, Rapalo enrolled in Dallas College’s Culinary and Pastry Arts program at the El Centro Campus.
Rapalo knew the college system well, as years before she was a first-generation college student from Honduras who earned an associate degree at Dallas College’s North Lake Campus. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas at Arlington and became a high school Spanish teacher.
Fast forward to today and Rapalo is thankful for Dallas College once again, this time playing a significant role in her career change to becoming a professional pastry chef. Rapalo is now running her own coffee and bakery shop, Rapalo Coffee and Croissants, in Hurst.
Before opening her shop, Rapalo fulfilled her dream of being a pastry chef in France too. After taking classes at El Centro, she attended Ferrandi Paris, an internationally recognized school of culinary arts, as well as Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Patisserie in Yssingeaux, France, where she graduated as a French pastry chef.
Dallas College Days
As she looks back on her career change, going from the teaching profession to the culinary world, Rapalo points to the foundation being laid at El Centro.
“Taking those baking and cooking classes at El Centro really pushed me to continue my culinary career by going to France,” she said. “It gave me the knowledge to know that I wanted to do more. And the classes were very good. When I went to France, I didn’t have any problems.”
Rapalo recalled one of her instructors at El Centro emphasized the importance of keeping uniforms clean. That is something that is prevalent in French kitchens.
“It’s not a trade. It’s an art over there,” Rapalo said.
El Centro also provided the foundational skills such as using various baking equipment, how long to bake certain pastries, and the temperatures required on certain dishes. Most importantly, Rapalo learned the ins and outs of how to open her own restaurant by taking classes from former restaurant owners at El Centro.
That’s why Rapalo would encourage anyone interested in culinary and pastry arts to choose Dallas College. It’s a respected program for a fraction of the cost of many other culinary schools.
“I loved the price. Some people think just because you pay more, it’s better,” she said. “But that’s not always the case. It’s the teachers who make it better, and all of the teachers I had helped me.”
Rapalo would love to see more folks with Dallas College ties visit her store. Her filled croissants are delicious with a strong endorsement for the pecan. She also has an extensive coffee menu as she imports her own coffee beans from Honduras and roasts them at the store.
More than that, though, Rapalo is a mission-driven business owner who wants to give back in any way possible. For example, she’s partnered with Birdville ISD and Opportunity Now to provide real-world work experience to students with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD).
“Most people with IDDs only work in supermarkets with the carts. Nobody gives them an opportunity to be in the kitchen,” she said. “That’s an opportunity I give them. Coffee shops are sometimes very fast environments with five people asking for five different drinks. So, even if they don’t learn how to make an espresso drink, at least they’ve been in that kind of fast-paced environment.”
Rapalo hopes to provide more mentorship and guidance to others, too. She wanted anyone studying the culinary arts at Dallas College to know she’s available to answer questions or simply be a sounding board in terms of opening your own shop or restaurant. “Nobody in my family owned a business. Everything I learned was in school, and it’s been a journey,” she said. “The one thing I’ve learned is to adapt to survive. I’m available to help any student because I didn’t have that and now, they do.”
This story and others like it can be found in the Student Newsletter. Check your Dallas College email to see the latest edition.
Dallas College alumni are encouraged to join our Alumni Network!