“This is the first time that I’m doing something I care about,” says the Texas native who found her calling in the kitchen.
This year has been no piece of cake for Victoria Guajardo. The 27-year-old San Antonio, Texas native was working from home since the start of the pandemic, which took a toll on her mental health.
Foreseeing her mental health worsening as the pandemic dragged on, she sought help from her doctor. With treatment, her outlook on life began to change and her life’s goal became more clear: to start a baking business.
“I’ve always been in love with baking,” Guajardo says, recalling she would watch the Food Network as a child, collect recipes, and cook for her family. “If not now, then when? The future is looking super gloomy, and there’s not a lot of reassurance that things are going to get better any time soon so why not try to do something for yourself and the community?”
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While Guajardo would often bake cakes for friends casually, it wasn’t until the end of June that she officially opened for business, selling a cake to a coworker. She shared the creation on Instagram with little expectation. As of November, she has amassed nearly 1,600 followers on the account.
“I made in a month what I would make at Hulu. I was shocked,” she says about her former position as a retention specialist. “Like how do I have more followers on this than I do on my personal stuff? It’s just been crazy amounts of support in a really short time. It’s overwhelming in a good way.”
“Gorda Bakes” is the name of Guajardo’s business, which she says celebrates her newfound positive body image. “Soy la Gorda who loves to bake,” reads the bio on her Instagram account.
Guajardo, a Chicana who identifies as LGBTQ, previously struggled with acceptance of her weight due to fat-shaming from family members and bullies growing up. This year, however, Guajardo says she has finally tackled that shame.
“Being gorda is part of who I am. I feel like since baking is my passion then I have to incorporate that,” she says. “That’s the way I feel most authentic. It’s the best name that I could have named my company after and it means a lot to me.”
From custom cakes, to cookies, cupcakes, and cake pops, Guajardo makes it all from her downtown home. Her signature recipe is a twist on a traditional Mexican sponge cake: Oreo tres leches. The dessert features oreo cake layers soaking in tres leches, filled and frosted with Oreo Chantilly cream and decorated with Oreos and tres leches pipettes.
“It is so moist,” she says. “It tastes like if you are spoon-feeding yourself milk-soaked Oreos. It’s so amazing. It tastes exactly like I thought it was going to taste like in my head.”
Guajardo created the recipe in July, just after her business was getting off the ground. It was a hit and has become a customer favorite so she plans to continue expanding on her tres leches experiments. Her newest creation was a pumpkin tres leches cake.
Customers from all over the country have ordered cakes from Guajardo, including one as far as Hawaii. Many also visit from other Texas cities, like Austin, Houston, and Dallas.
“I have a lot of people call from other states; they want to send their family member or loved one a cake or cupcakes for their birthday,” she says. “Those are usually the out of state ones.”
Guajardo typically bakes two to three cakes each day, on average, though some days have been busier than others. She says she has had to turn away some customers due to being completely booked. For those unable to get their hands on one of her cakes, she offers slices of her creations and other treats during monthly bake sales.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s so fun,” she says. “I meet so many people and it’s so rewarding. I love it so much.”
Opening during the pandemic has come with unanticipated safety protocols for Guajardo. She provides contactless porch pickup and uses a mask when meeting with customers. She has avoided the risk of contracting COVID-19 by not participating in farmers markets and buying her baking ingredients curbside.
She looks forward to the day when she can truly connect with and form relationships with her customers without the limitations of the pandemic.
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“COVID-19 has been a barrier in a lot of different little ways for me,” she says. “If it wasn’t in a pandemic I would still be baking out of my home, but I’d be able to meet people and go to markets, and I could be a little more social.”
Initially, Guajardo planned to do her baking business on the side, but it recently became her full-time job. In August, she was furloughed from her job of two years at Hulu.
“I hadn’t planned on it being my sole income at all,” Guajardo says. “It was like my five-year plan, not my two-month.”
In the future, Guajardo says she wants to go mobile and eventually open a dessert truck, which she plans to travel the state with. Staying small is part of her business’s charm, she says.
Going after her dreams has paid off in more ways than Guajardo originally anticipated. It showed her how much support she has from her family and friends as well as San Antonio’s community of creators, she says. But the biggest payoff has been the continued improvement to her self-image.
“I feel like getting my mental health in order helped me see clearly this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” she says. “It really showed me you can do anything you want as long as you stay true to yourself. This is the first time that I’m doing something I care about. I finally feel authentic and just real.”