Sassy’s Sweets Inc. is an up-and-coming dessert company that offers confectionery treats with a variety of Latino influenced flavors. Owner Zahaira “Sassy” Curiel is of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent – and was born and raised in the Washington Heights area. Influenced by this large community of passionate and innovative entrepreneurs, she knew at the tender age of 10 that she would one day have her own business. Being a minority and coming from a low-income household, one would assume success as an impossible task; but she conquered that fear and broke barriers to achieve her dreams. She believes in viewing struggles as challenges – and through her hard work, she hopes to inspire future generations of Latina/o entrepreneurs.
Co-Owner Enilda “Eni” Bejaran was born in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico to Dominican immigrant parents. From a very young age Eni showed an interest in art and design – and would later pursue a degree in the arts with a specialization in interior decorating. Having an art background and a flair for the creative, she was the perfect fit. Both girls coupled their cultural identities and strong work ethic into their sugar-based delicacies. Sassy’s Sweets Inc. specializes in custom cupcakes and plans to expand their menu with much more decadent ingredients.
After having tried their delicious cupcakes at several events around the Washington Heights area, I decided to inquire more about these lovely ladies. Below is our Q &A session:
RBATC: How did you ladies come together and where did the inspiration for this business venture come from?
Zahaira: Both myself and Enilda met in Junior High School and we’ve been best friends ever since. Sassy’s Sweets had been a work in progress business for over two years, but truly came into fruition post a collaboration project with Jakira Torres. Someone from her staff placed an order of cupcakes and I just ran with the idea – the business took off post that event. I decided to stick with the name Sassy’s Sweets because Sassy is my nickname and because it was memorable whenever someone would place an order – it just kind of stuck. A couple of months post inception, I asked Enlida to come on board as partner because I definitely couldn’t have done all of this on my own.
RBATC: Being smalls business owners, have you experienced this field to be more or less competitive as Latinas?
Enilda: Definitely more competitive because it’s a very female dominated sphere, especially now with Latinas taking over the industry – but that’s the challenge you take on when you get into this business. However, the more driven you are and the more passionate you are, is what separates you from the rest – that’s our competitive edge. We love what we do and it’s apparent in our work.
RBATC: Zahaira, your background and current occupation is in acting, has it been a challenge balancing between both career and business venture?
Zahaira: Well, at the age of 7 I wanted to act, and at the age of 10 I wanted to bake – and somehow I knew I would one day do both. My days consist of going to auditions, taking classes, running my business; and yet, I still have time to serve as project director for “Statement Arts” a nonprofit organization catering to the community of Washington Heights. It has been a lot on plate but it’s challenge I welcome. Sure, it can very stressful and time consuming; and sometimes I wish there could 48 hours in one day. But nonetheless, it’s a challenge that I’m learning to appreciate.
Enilda: It can be very challenging. I work at an oral surgeon’s office on weekdays, and on my free time I spend it in the kitchen baking and designing – but we manage because it’s something we both love to do.
RBATC: Have you both always enjoyed baking?
Enilda: Baking has never been my forte but I’ve been doing a lot more of it now because of Zahaira and our business. My speciality has always been decorating – I love decorating and coming up with multiple color combinations for our sweets.
Zahaira: When I 10, I would visit my cousin in New Jersey and she would always bake box-cake whenever I’d visit. And one day, I decided I wanted to learn how to bake my own box-cake. So, when I’d get home, I’d try to make my own box-cake – I started out by making a few things here and there but then someone in High School told me ‘you’re not a real baker if you’re not baking from scratch.’ I then thought, I have to start baking from scratch. So, from then on I’d do research and I bought books and really started honing that skill. My mom then bought me my first KitchenAid mixer and it has made a world of a difference.
RBATC: As small business owners, what’s the one thing that has served you well over the years?
Zahaira: Customer service is very important to us. Regardless of the pressure and stresses in the kitchen, at the end of the day, we want our customers to be happy and satisfied.
RBATC: Are you ladies involved with the community and has that served in building your brand?
Eni: We’ve participated at a few events pro bono to get our brand out there, but we’ve also done our best to give back to the community. We’ve also given a portion of our sales to donations.
Zahaira: One of the ideas I’ve discussed with Eni is that once we have our official store front, we’d like to feature special cupcakes where the proceeds would go specifically to charities and local organizations in the Washington Heights area.
RBATC: Did you have a professional mentor? And if so, how has he or she helped you?
Zahaira: Michael Diaz (aka Juan Bago) is not only my mentor but also a dear friend who has helped in providing guidance with regards to our business. Liza Politi is the creative director for Statement Arts, the nonprofit organization which has been a source of inspiration to me since I was 15 years old. My mother, my aunt, my comadre – all very strong independent women that I’m proud to call my family. My inner circle of friends are the people who have helped shape me into the person that I am today – and for that I’m very thankful.
Eni: My sister is my rock and my backbone – both she and Zahaira are my pillars and are what keeps me motivated.
RBATC: What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment to date?
Zahaira: Going incorporated. Starting a business at the age of 25 and seeing both the benefits and its downfalls has definitely been a learning experience, but you learn how to roll with the punches. When I started my program for Statement Arts (a program catering to the youth and college prep for Northern Manhattanites) last summer, it went from zero to 100 in just one year. And now for this summer, we’ve been fortunate to find a space at The United Palace of Cultural Arts(UPCA). Both ventures have been very challenging but I consider them as huge accomplishments for me.
RBATC: What are your future plans for Sassy’s Sweets Inc.?
Zahaira: We’d like to expand our menu – that’s why we didn’t want to go by the name of Sassy’s Cupcakes because we want to offer a larger selection of delicacies. I myself am a big fan of Italian desserts, Indian desserts, anything with exotic flavors, I’d like to experiment with and mix them with my cultural background to see what develops.
Also, within the next year, we hope to open a Sassy’s Sweets shop in the Washington Heights area – a place we’ve always considered our home. We’d also like to have a chain in other locations such as Puerto Rico and Miami, Florida.
RBATC: What’s the best way for my readers to contact you gals?
Zahaira: Currently, you can reach us through all social media outlets: twitter, facebook, tumblr, pinterest. Our homesite is still under construction, but once we have it running, we hope to develop a phone app to help place orders to our site.
As for Statement Arts, they’ve created a free summer musical theater and college prep program that will be providing services at The United Palace of Cultural Arts(UPCA) in the Washington Heights area. Statement Arts has also recently kicked off their indiegogo campaign in hopes to raise funds for the program. To inquire more on this campaign and ways you can help donate, please click here: Statement Arts – College Prep Program 2013
Sassy’s Sweets Inc. has also been featured at a number of events – most recently the “DE COLORES” art showcase that I myself, Roz Baron (writer of this blog) curated with fellow art blogger Patty Rodriguez (aka Latin PattyO.com).
Photo from left to right: Patty Rodriguez, Enilda “Eni” Bejaran, Roz Baron, Zahaira “Sassy” Curiel.
Their delectable cupcakes were also featured at the following events: Skincare & Leslie O PR at The Stella, Fashion Vilchez at Nail Lounge, The Women Worldwide – A Nonprofit Initiative, Fundraiser screening of “Half the Sky,” Bago Bunch Mixer at Apt.78, Nonprofit Statement Arts’ final performance at The Malcom X and Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center, Culinaria Festival, Word-Up Community Bookstore, The Jeneba Project.
Zahaira Curiel’s and Enilda Bejaran’s aspiration is to empower and change the world – one sweet dessert at a time. For more inquiries or if you would like to place an order, make sure to click on any of the links down below.
— Roz Baron