Editor’s Note: Hola mi gente! We are back with the second installment of RBATC’s Visionarios series. Sure, I can give you the “meat and potatoes” of how this entrepreneur came to be, but I’ve always fancy’d the idea of thinking outside the box. As a creative, I love the idea of exploring that initial spark of inspiration. I adore those “dreamlike” trances we often experience as children (or even as young adults) that turns on the light bulb to that “ah, that’s what I’m supposed to do with my life” feeling. Call it divine introspection, God’s voice, your intuition, what have you – it’s all applicable and magnified here.
For this second installment of #RBATC Visionarios (which we’ve also cleverly named as the “Azucar” (sugar) photo-shoot. Peep video below) we re-explore the talents of entrepreneur Ms. Zahaira Curiel aka Sassy’s Sweets NYC. In case you haven’t read my previous interview, she’s a working actress, acting teacher, director of her own non-for-profit youth organization known as Statement Arts; and, she’s a full-time entrepreneur. She’s a headstrong young lady whose assertiveness has turned her confectionary dreams into a full-fledged business. Below you’ll read how this photo-shoot came to life; accompanied by a quick Q&A regarding her influences and her plans for the future.
Days before the scheduled shoot, my team brainstormed ideas. Initially, there were three women Zahaira named as having influenced her career path, but we agreed to go with the one who truly best represents Zahaira. On one stormy afternoon, we met with Zahaira in her family home. Her welcoming parents, family pictures, pets, family heirlooms and knickknacks greeted us – all giving me a clear understanding as to who exactly is Ms. Curiel. My assessment of her was of a proud Dominican/Puerto Rican gal with strong family values and work ethic. And although her cultural makeup plays a large part of her identity, she’s also very much the all American girl with a head for business.
For this project, my stylist extraordinaire Cristina Pimentel (of The Fuschia Files) did an exquisite job in selecting the wardrobe and accessories for the impending shoot. In going through our subject’s closet, and mind you, a very impressive shoe collection, (side-note: GURRRL, you had me jealous) we were lucky to have found pieces that both enhanced Zahaira’s cultural background, while simultaneously tying her to her muse. Now, if you’ve guessed Zaharia’s muse as being the legendary Lucille Ball, then you’d be correct.
To give our shoot an authentic old Hollywood feel, we opted for the art deco loveliness that is the Empire State Building. How glamore is that, y’all? It was a beautiful and sunny Sunday afternoon. Once at the location, we went to WERQ, honey! We set up shop, backdrop, props, wardrobe, and makeup, THE WORKS! It was a magical shoot that not only highlighted that “ah” moment in Zahaira’s life, but also allowed her to revisit her childhood memories. And in that instant of nostalgia, is what I’m trying to capture with this project. As creator, I can only hope these visuals will one-day influence aspiring Zahairas and future Lucys.
Wanting to pay homage to Lucille Ball and the legendary “Vitameatavegmin” episode (which coincidently ties in perfectly with Zahaira’s Mama Juana infused cupcakes for her +21 crowd) we thought it would be grand to put a spin on the American pop culture reference. For those of you unfamiliar with the famous “I Love Lucy” episode, here’s some background: “The ‘I Love Lucy’ episode ‘Lucy Does a TV Commercial’ Vitameatavegamin is a fictitious health tonic imbibed by Lucy. The elixir contains concentrated vitamins, meat, vegetables, and minerals, promising to help people who are tired and run-down. Originally, the Vitameatavegamin was 11% alcohol according to rare pictures found online, but that percentage was increased to 23% for comedic effect – we’re guessing.”
That elixir motif was the key (or rather one of many) that would tie Zahaira to Lucy. Aside from her tall orders for kid-friendly events and celebrations, Zahaira also makes “cupcake shots” for adult audiences. She cleverly uses a seasoning syringe-like utensil to pop a shot of Mama Juana and other alcoholic beverages into her baked goods. It’s a perfect marriage between dessert and a nightcap (for all you Mad Men lovers out there). And for those who are unfamiliar with the popular Dominican “moonshine-esque” drink, here’s some background: “Mama Juana is a drink from the Dominican Republic that is concocted by mixing rum, red wine, and honey to soak in a bottle with tree bark and herbs. The taste is similar to port wine; and the color is a deep red. The specific herbs that make up Mama Juana were originally prepared as an herbal tea by the native Taino Indians. Post the Columbus era, alcohol was then added to the recipe. Besides being rumored to be an aphrodisiac, with many natives of the Dominican Republic claiming that the drink has similar effects, Mama Juana is also consumed for its medicinal value. The alcohol is said to act as an extract base that pulls the herbs’ curative properties, creating an herbal tincture often served as a shot. The reported positive effects on health vary: ranging from a flu remedy, to a digestion and circulation aid, blood cleanser, sexual potency, kidney and liver tonic.” Online you’ll find dozens of recipes and varying concoctions that best suits your *cough* “needs.” 😉
Pre-Photo Shoot Q&A:
A: In the last year, I quit my full-time job as Sales Associate and Baker for another baking company. I started as an intern and was then hired to work in the kitchen. In the months I spent working in the kitchen, I learned so much. And that same experience has truly helped my own company grow. Since the transition, I’ve now dedicated all my time to my company, my Statement Arts Program, and performing again.
Q2: Would you say that the acting has taken more precedence over the baking?
A: Right now it’s about making time for everything. I always find creative ways to incorporate one into the other.
Q3: Months prior to this project, I asked you if there was one person you could name as having influenced your career path and you named Lucille Ball. Why did you pick her?
A: Initially, three women came to mind. I thought of Frida Kahlo, Lucille Ball, and Alanis Morissette. Alanis holds most of the weight with regards to my passion, but when I think of Lucy she stands out more for obvious reasons. Growing up I’d watch her “I Love Lucy” re-runs on Nick@Nite and I’d marvel at her comedic ability. I fell in love with her character and thought of her as a powerhouse for having been a successful comedian – of which was huge for her during that time. She became so much more important to me as I got older because I realized the huge impact she left in the world as a producer and owner of her own production company. Alanis also stands out for me because she turned me onto performing with her music; and I also thought of Frida because she was so honest with her art. As far as I can remember, I’ve always respected artists who I felt were real and honest through their art.
Q4: Now as an adult, how has Lucy impacted your life?
A: Now that I’m older, I feel her influence is more present versus me in my early twenties. In my early 20’s I was just excited to be a performer; but then I found myself trying really hard to figure it all out. It’s been hard to find a successful balance between being a Latina performer and comedian and finding a happy medium between both. It’s been a struggle seeing that when I go in for readings, I still see that it’s a lot of males and non-minorities in positions of power. I sometimes feel like it’s a field that still desperately needs diversity. Going to castings has really opened my eyes and has led me to ambition being a producer one day. I’d love the opportunity to change the field so that diverse backgrounds and stories can be shared.
Q5: Since your initial launch, I’ve seen your company get a lot of online exposure. Would you agree that Sassy’s Sweets NYC is now catching momentum?
A: The most exciting thing for me now is when someone tells me “Oh, I’ve seen your logo online” or “Oh! You’re Sassy’s Sweets!” and I’m like, “yeah, that’s me!” It’s truly the most amazing feeling in the world. From my site, to my social media networks – it has all contributed to building my brand. Now it’s all about how can I further expand my brand through different social media tactics. But to be honest, there’s no better feeling than to tell folks I meet, “yes, I’m an actress and a baker! Would you like to try some of these delicious cookies?”
Q6: Is the desired storefront still in the works?
A: Yes. The storefront is largely why I decided to concentrate all my time to my company. I really wanted to plan out what’s my next move. I need to figure out the space; (either moderately big or small) and taking the appropriate steps to figure out what’s the next big thing for Sassy’s Sweets. But yeah, get back to me in a year. I should have more details for you then. *Laughs*
Q7: Just like I have high hopes for this passion project, what is the message you’re hoping will come across in these photos?
A: That’s a good question. Well, first I’m excited because the possibilities are still unknown. Secondly, I’m really excited to show off my comedic abilities because it’s what I love to do. And with regards to what it will convey, I hope that these pictures will help influence those interested in acting or baking to pursue it full heartedly. I can’t tell you how I adore hearing stories where I’ve influenced little ones into baking because they’ve seen me working a venue or seen me online. For me, it has always been rewarding to give back. I’ve even sold specialty cupcakes with the purpose to help fund artistic programs for inner city youth. Everything I do, I do it with the purpose of giving back. So, if this project leads to a “paying it forward” ripple effect, then that’s all I can hope for.
Q8: What’s an average workday for Sassy’s Sweets NYC?
A: Well, I’m up and ready by 7AM. I process my orders. I try to keep my oven always going – so pans are constantly coming in and out to keep up with momentum. I basically bake till well into the evening hours. I also make deliveries. And that’s an average day for this baker.
Q9: What’s your favorite treat to make?
A: I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I really get excited trying new combinations. I recently tried a recipe with gluten-free Rice Krispies Treats…*gasp* they were so yummy. I’m also thinking about incorporating sangria, select beers and wine into my “cupcake shots.” Also, I love the idea of playing with exotic flavors influenced by my Dominican and Puerto Rican roots. Recently I did a gluten-free aguacate (avocado) cupcake and gluten-free piña colada cupcake that were both made with natural sweeteners and coconut oil. Both were so delish. I love experimenting and also catering to a variety of customers. I’m also thinking about starting a line for pets. I’m a dog owner myself and thought it’d be a cool idea to share baked goods with our K9 friends.
Q10: Will this new pet friendly line be apart of the Sassy’s Sweets brand?
A: Right now it’s just an idea, but we’ll see what the future holds.
Q11: Has your clientele increased since our last interview?
A: Oh my goodness, yes! Social media has been an amazing tool in helping me connect with my customers. It’s efficient in placing orders and allowing me to interact with my customers. My customers range from locals, to the far stretches of California – all showing me support and love for my baked goods.
*Breaktime* From kitchen to closet, the interview went from sweet treats to Zahaira’s sweet aesthetic. Below is the rest of our Q&A:
Q12: Going through your adorable wardrobe, I see a lot of vintage pieces. Would you consider yourself a vintage collector?
A: Well, I’m definitely a dress girl – I collect a lot of dresses. For a small period of time, I loved 1950’s style dresses, but then I got over it. *Giggles* They’re still in mint condition and I keep them in storage just in case I need them for a show or play work.
Q13: Do costumes help transform you into character?
A: Actually, I get that transformation “feeling” from makeup. That and shoes! Shoes are definitely the final clincher.
Q14: Explain to the average novice (*points to self*) what it’s like for you to transform?
A: It depends on each role. I definitely do my research first so I can get into the mindset of each character. For me, it’s about being honest so the character becomes believable to the audience. If I feel it, they’ll feel it too. And then they’re these moments where I truly find myself consumed by that character – where it’s no longer me but rather the person I’m trying to play. Also playing off of someone helps with the transformation ’cause you can feed off of his or her energy. You have to really be open-minded in these types of scenarios and be very receptive to your co-star’s reaction so it translates into something authentic.
Q15: You have an impressive collection of heels and pumps, when did your passion for shoe collecting begin?
A: It started around the time I was graduating high school. My love affair with brands just grew over the years.
Update: Zahaira Curiel is now the newest cast member of comedy troupe Room28. To read more about this incredibly talented group, click here. Also, Room28 is having an upcoming show this June – to purchase tickets, click here. Zahaira has also been busy working with her Statement Arts Program. Their commencement ceremony is scheduled for mid summer. And finally, if you would like to place an order (or orders) from Sassy’s Sweets NYC, please click here.
The concept was to pay homage to Zahaira’s muse, Lucille Ball of “I Love Lucy” and Desilu Production fame. The creative spin to the iconic “Vitameatavegmin” episode was to have the same setup but incorporate a Latino-friendly twist. Instead of using the famous “Vitameatavegmin” bottle and props, we incorporated the Mama Juana bottle and added Spanglish to our props.
Hair & Makeup:
To coincide with the theme, our stylist Cristina and hairstylist Lerner Rodriguez did an exceptional job in transforming this Latina beauty into a 1950’s pin-up with a contemporary twist. They both kept true to the period by giving Zahaira the traditional hairstyle of the era: Victory Rolls. The makeup was a simple cat eye; neutral eye shadow palettes from NYX Cosmetics and Makeup Forever were on hand. And to finish, a matte red lip, which was the clincher in giving Ms. Curiel that million-dollar smile.
I also interviewed our photographer, Ms. Armelis D’Orville, to showcase the talents of all contributors. Below is our Q&A.
Q1: When did you start working as a professional photographer?
A: My interest in photography started back in 2011 after I took a few photography classes at my community college. I developed a liking for old-school photography. I learned how to develop film at home and have an extensive collection of 8×10 black and white photos. And then last year, around February, I decided to go digital. But to be honest, I have a love for both techniques. With digital there’s that instant gratification of delete if the picture is missing something. With the old-school format, it takes a little longer but the quality is remarkable. However, I appreciate having knowledge of both techniques as they’re an asset to me as I keep growing professionally. But digital has been really fun.
Q2: What camera and lens do you use?
A: I’m using a Canon T4i camera that is your basic startup cam; but I have a prime lens. I have a 50mm lens. This lens is really good for portraiture because it focuses on the finer details versus a stock lens. A stock lens gives you a more universal look per frame. And since portraiture is my specialty, I felt compelled to have it.
Q3: How long have you been working with this camera?
A: I’ve had my Canon since last year. I look forward to upgrading the body soon. But yeah, I’m definitely a Canon girl, all the way… no Nikon here. *Laughs.
Q4: What’s your opinion on today’s shoot?
A: I love it! I’m a big fan of color and vibrancy. I’m a big vintage collector myself, so I’m in heaven right now. It’s truly been a fun shoot. When you first described the concept to me, I was excited to participate. Couldn’t wait to start shooting.
Q5: Do you work by appointment?
A: Currently, yes.
Q6: How can potential clients reach you?
A: Right now social media networks showcase my work. A lot of my work is up on Tumblr under the heading: conceptualambiguity.tumblr.com. And for bookings, you can email me at ArmelisD@gmail.com
Well folks, that’s a wrap! I hope all my loyal readers have enjoyed this labor of love. This is the second installment to this passion project I started over a year ago. And now that the summer is just around la esquina, (the corner) this creative is getting antsy to revive her project. I have now opened a new IG account under the screen name RBATCVisionarios. This new Instagram feed will show all the behind-the-scenes moments and vids. Also, if you are an up-and-coming or established entrepreneur and would like to participate in this project, shoot me an email at RBATCVisionarios@gmail.com. Thanks again mi gente for allowing me into your homes, onto your mobile phones, your tablets, and your hearts. And until next time…