The velvety, smooth taste of Sweet Art by Lucila’s vanilla buttercream can put a smile on just about any South Floridian. But what is sweeter than the vanilla rum cake residents savor every last bite of?
The inspiring path that Lucila Venet-Jimenez carved for herself, leading her to start her own business.
Jimenez was just 15 years old when she made the life-changing decision to leave her tight-knit family and move from Havana to Key West. As a part of Operation Pedro Pan, Jimenez left to escape Cuba’s political distress.
“It was very difficult to leave my family,” says Jimenez. “I went from being an only child, living with my parents, grandparents and aunts, to moving in with a family I barely knew.”
However, it was her tight-knit family and Cuban culture that gave Jimenez an early love for cooking. Jimenez vividly remembers spending hours in the kitchen, even when too young to light a fire or cut with a knife.
When Jimenez took her first cooking class from Anna Loudres Gomez, a famous TV chef from Cuba, her love for baking flourished. Jimenez and six other women learned how to prepare a flavorful variety of entrees and desserts each week. While her six companions stood around the kitchen gossiping, Jimenez stuck close to the chef, fascinated by the thrill of baking.
“Since taking Anna’s class, I always plan my menus backward,” says Jimenez, longtime Coral Gables resident. “I start with the dessert first, and then decide what we are having for dinner.”
Jimenez especially enjoyed baking when she became a mother. With three children in tow (Andres, Javier and Cristina), she recalls always being at her children’s school and baking as the homeroom mom. When her eldest son, Andres, prepared to leave for college, Jimenez decided to start selling her cakes.
Within three years of doing business from her Granada Boulevard home, Jimenez relocated to a bakery. In July 1996, she opened her first location on Bird Road and within the same year opened a second at The Falls. Sweet Art by Lucila expanded from a company of five employees to more than 50. Three years later, Jimenez opened two additional franchises: one in Doral and another in Pembroke Pines.
As her sweet sensations became increasingly celebrated, Jimenez had to open a separate, large commercial kitchen to supply her stores. This 4,000-square-foot kitchen can produce 60-80 quart-sized batches of batter at a time.
Although Jimenez formerly did all of the baking, she now supervises her stores, helps the decorators and brings new ideas to the table. She is currently pursuing to sell her cakes beyond South Florida and go nationwide.
“Even after a long day, I always like to come home and cook dinner,” says Jimenez. “I never get tired of being in the kitchen.”
Jimenez’s forte is not limited to cakes; she also makes cookies, pastries and tarts, which serve as a special treat for birthday parties, quinces and weddings.
Future brides and grooms are especially delighted when a Sweet Art by Lucila cake is part of their special day. Jimenez describes her most elaborate wedding cake as one she made for a wedding at the Biltmore Hotel.
“It was a five-tiered cake made to serve 200 people plus 300 individual cakes,” says Jimenez. “A week after the wedding, I was invited by the bride and groom to eat the leftover cake. They even brought plates from the Biltmore to serve it on, it was pretty special.”
This is just one example of how Jimenez builds lasting relationships with many of her customers. It’s her warm and inviting nature paired with her beautiful and delicious cakes that keep South Floridians coming back for another piece.
As Jimenez humbly notes, “When customers come in and tell me they will only buy Sweet Art by Lucila cakes, it reminds me of why I love to do this.”
For more information about Jimenez and Sweet Art by Lucila locations, visit her website at:http://www.sweetartbylucila.com/.
Christie Bok is a sophomore at the University of Miami majoring in media management and minoring in business administration.
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