The recent Wednesday Farmers’ Market at BakerRipley in East Aldine Town Center produced a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
It was for the grand opening of Mr. Sweet, a catering food “carriage” run by Venezuelan refugees Aryelis and Daniel Ortiz.
The couple’s new business is a result of BakerRipley’s Entrepreneur Academy with the help of the non-profit social service organization’s business coach, Alexis Rios.
The couple also got a boost from the federal Restaurant and Foodservice Industry Recovery Fund, and they rented the commercial kitchen at BakerRipley to perfect their mouth-watering delicacies, including lighter-than-air puff pastries, stuffed with cream cheese and bacon or vegetables.
At the market, their buttery, caramel-filled cookies were beautifully wrapped in cellophane and tied in a silver bow.
The cute red and white catering carriage evolved during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Aryelis Ortiz tried to imagine how to start a business as restaurants were failing worldwide.
Rios credited the couple with developing a strategy to overcome those obstacles, and he helped them obtain a business loan from Hancock Whitney Bank.
“This family business represents how our Latino community is always looking out for our new neighbors, by preparing them and providing them with help for new jobs,” Rios said.
For more than 20 years, Aryelis and her husband operated a bakery with various locations across Venezuela. It, too, was called Mr. Sweet. However, as the country’s situation deteriorated – including a worker strike that sent the economy tumbling – they were forced to close all but their original location.
Eventually, looking for better opportunities, the couple moved to Houston in 2015 with their daughter and son.
At first, struggling with English, the couple went to work in construction. As an office worker at a construction site, Aryelis began bringing in baked goods to the workers.
She took a second job at H-E-B, working her way up to head cake decorator. But she was struggling to work two jobs.
Through social media, she learned about BakerRipley’s Entrepreneur Connections.
Working with Rios, the Ortiz’s started classes at the Entrepreneur Academy in 2018. The couple decided in that classes that their new business should focus on catering baked goods.
The classes in Spanish give new business owners, or people with business ideas, multi-week training courses. The courses range from starting a business to growth strategies for established businesses. Course fees range from $50 to $100.
After consulting with Rios, the couple developed a strategic business plan, which they presented at an annual competition called Lanzate Houston.
The contest is not unlike the reality TV show Shark Tank, where business owners make a pitch to judges. (Except that it’s a lot friendlier).
In 2019, the Ortiz’ were in the top five finalists of the Crecer (“to grow”) out of 50 participants.
The Lanzate Houston competition is open to entrants from across Harris County. The competition is the only event of its kind that is delivered in Spanish. Participants pitch their business in one of two categories — start-up or business growth — and winners receive cash and in-kind prizes.
Co-sponsored by the City of Houston Office of Business Opportunity, the contest provides opportunities for entrepreneurs to pitch their business or business idea to a panel of experts and investors.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Aryelis became all too aware of the problems facing food service businesses. She decided that the new business might make it as a mobile bakery. She calls her unique design for the bakery on wheels “a food carriage.”
She continued to research that idea, even after the couple received funds for the carriage, by visiting area “pop-up markets” and studying other food truck vendors.
BakerRipley’s other services to business owners include a variety of workshops, with offerings from how to run a better business website to meetings with the U.S. Small Business Administration.
For information about upcoming workshops, seminars and classes, send an e-mail to Opportunity@BakerRipley.org.
The bakery carriage, decorated with balloons and baskets of sunflowers, was the highlight of the Farmers’ Market. Other vendors included Urban Harvest, the citywide organization spreading healthy foods to diverse communities. It had a wide selection of fresh spinach, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh eggs, nuts, and other healthy food choices. The fresh choices were sold at bargain prices.
De Mi Fogon, a young cook who specializes in Colombian cuisine, offered his selections of corn-based dishes, including arepas. Agustina Peña, who runs a home-based bakery business, sold her custom cakes, pies, and cookies. Her husband and son help with the business, called Sweet Homedelights.
Other vendors were on hand to cultivate customers for their home-grown businesses. The market included a variety of shopping opportunities for people in need of graduation gifts, bridesmaids’ gifts and kids’ activities as the school year draws to a close.
Joanna Reyna, who sponsors paint parties across the East Aldine area, was selling ready-to-go paint kits complete with a pre-printed canvas, paints, brushes, and other supplies. Her business, Faith Creations, offers painting parties for five or kids or adults.
Esmeralda Morilla, owner of Daughter of a King Creations, had a variety of gift baskets and boxes available, including decorative boxes filled with goodies like hand creams, and candles for grads or bridesmaids.
And Judith Moira, of Moira Designs, sold hand-crafted jewelry, including necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and rosaries. Her reasonably priced items ranged from sparkling gems to simple designs.
Sweet Indulgences, a skin care and bath care line founded by Brandi Garrett, also was on hand. The naturally scented soaps and creams are handmade by Garrett, who has run the business since 2009. Her entire product line can be found online at www.sweetindulgencesbeauty.com
As adults strolled through the market, little children wandered off to swing in a new playground near the new Town Center office building of the East Aldine Management District. The playground area, which includes a designed shallow stream, is already popular. One little graduate posed for pictures near the stream, clothed in her graduation cap and gown.
— by Anne Marie Kilday