Melissa Lathus (BAS, 2012) and Lucila Giagrande Show Lexington Students How to Turn Their Baking Skills into a Business
It’s just six months since Melissa Lathus graduated from Lexington and already she is putting her education in entrepreneurship into practice. Her on-line pastry business, Bake Me Happy, is fully functional and ready to go. Four of Melissa’s unique and original cupcakes were available for tasting on November 21st at Lexington’s annual Fall Tasting Fair. Her “churro” cupcake, an adaptation of the Spanish donuts called churros, was among the favorites. Topped with a cinnamon buttercream and a tiny churro, the cupcakes are a bite into the culture of Spain and Latin America, recalling Melissa’s Mexican roots.
Before starting her business, Melissa worked with Lucila Giagrande, owner of Lucila’s Homemade, a gift pastry business specializing in Alfajores, a cross between a cookie and a cupcake stuffed with the caramel delight dulce de leche. Lucila was at the Tasting Fair as well, with her children Emilia and Joseph and her husband, Lexington Economics professor, Joe—and, of course, they brought plenty of alfajores.
Lexington President, Kelly O’Leary, has a Master’s degree in Gastronomy, the study of food and culture. “It is hard for me to attend these events without turning them into a history lesson,” she says with a smile, as students of her History of Hospitality course nod knowingly. “The word “alfajor” comes from the El-Andalus period of Muslim-Arab occupation of Spain,” President O’Leary continues, “It first referred to a variety of sugary pastries made with nuts, honey and spices, then typical of Middle Eastern cookery. Following Spanish tradition, nuns in South America financed their convent life by selling pastries and confections. As they competed for business in the prospering cities of colonial South America, they worked hard to develop innovative and delicious sweets. That was the cultural climate in which alfajores emerged, but they were perfected in 19th century Argentina.”
Both Lucila and Melissa see their growing small family businesses as a way of increasing the family income, balancing work with home life and bringing their culture and heritage into mainstream American foodways. Lucila sells her “alfies” (that’s the American nickname for her treats) at farmer’s markets, specialty coffee shops and high-end grocery stores around Chicago, but the bulk of her business comes from gift box orders.
Melissa and her husband, Cody, plan to open a storefront near their hometown, Monee, IL, by mid-summer if all goes well. “I will need very little equipment or space,” Melissa says, “Just a mixer, oven and a little bit of counter space.”