Student-run baking business “Val’s Sweets” instills comforts from home

Kaiya Little , Life & Arts Reporter

Chalky trails of powdered sugar stick to Valeria Rocha’s palms as she briskly moves through her kitchen. The sweet smell of a classic vanilla cake hangs around her. 

Breathing in the scent, Rocha said her mind drifts to the feeling of being 12 years old again,    standing in the kitchen of her Brownsville home, under the spell of a Youtube tutorial after reluctantly agreeing to help with her mother’s new venture — baking. 

“(Baking is) a way to connect to my past,” the international relations and global studies and Plan II junior said. “I used to hate it. Now I enjoy it, and it brings me comfort. It makes me feel closer to home.”

Looking for a way to make money, Rocha said her friends encouraged her to rekindle her childhood baking skills at the start of the fall 2021 semester. Rocha said assisting in her mother’s cake business growing up made launching her own simple.

Rocha said her apartment-based small business, “Val’s Sweets,” caters to the West Campus community, and Rocha, who conducts all of her business through Instagram and Venmo, said she handles an average of five orders a day.

Beyond the practical connections that Rocha’s experience in the kitchen lends to her business, reminiscing on memories from the last time she was able to visit home three years ago revealed truths about her love for baking and her dynamic with her mother. 

“Me and my mom are known for being super chaotic and all over the place all the time — it shows how much we have in common,” Rocha said. “I remember the house used to be filled with enormous three layer cakes, and to transport those from the house to some party (venues) was crazy.”

At the top of the Val’s Sweets Instagram account (@_vals_sweets), Rocha promotes what she said she considers the unique selling point of her sweet treats — lunch box cakes. Lunch box cakes are palm-sized cakes that originated in Korean cafes and often feature delicate and elaborate icing designs. Rocha said the work of replicating the cakes’ trendy aesthetics can be time-consuming, while also challenging her art skills in a refreshing way.

“I’m just busy all the time. I have class, I have an internship and all this extra stuff I’m doing, aside from the small business,” Rocha said. “Sometimes (baking) adds to the stress, but other times, I’m really embracing my creativity and trying to come up with new things.”

Rocha’s roommate, advertising junior Victor Silva, said getting to taste-test many of the cakes that occupy their shared kitchen is the highlight of his experience living with a small business owner. Above this, Silva said Rocha’s hard-working attitude radiates around every cake-covered surface, and her attention to detail shines through every bite.

“(Val is) very dedicated to her craft … she’s committed to doing the best that she can all the time,” Silva said. “I know she puts a lot of love into her cakes.”

After stumbling upon Rocha and Val’s Sweets in a shared group chat, design freshman Maria Rodriguez said she appreciated the accessibility of Rocha’s business. Prompted by a desire to surprise a friend after a bad day, Rodriguez said the easy ordering process through Instagram DMs allowed for her to do something special for another person.

 “The way she is and the way she approached business and with me made everything go well,” Rodriguez said. “You could say they’re just cakes, (but it’s also) the thought that goes into making them — it’s not just the act of purchasing something (from Val), it’s the experience (of) getting something to share with others.”