By Kimberly D. Nettles-Barcelón
Kika’s Treats is a wholesale and online store specializing in Brazilian-influenced chocolate covered cookies, caramels, and cheese bread (known as pão de queijo). The owner/creator is Cristina Arantes, a Brazilian-born woman who moved to the Bay Area in 1999.
I spoke with Cristina about her business Kika’s Treats because of my interest in gathering narratives of women food entrepreneurs who enter into food work as second careers, or what I’m phrasing “cooking up a second act.” I sat with Cristina in her bright and airy workspace in the American Industrial Center building in the Dogpatch area of San Francisco to talk about her transition from working as an economist in the finance industry in São Paulo to becoming a food entrepreneur in the U.S.
What work did you do before becoming a baker and entrepreneur?
I grew up in São Paulo, Brazil. I studied economics and then did a shortened version of an MBA with a focus on marketing. I worked for 10 years in the private sector, mostly multinationals and a couple of Brazilian companies. But, I was very unhappy. I didn’t like the whole multi-national corporate way of thinking. In 1998, I started volunteering in the non-profit sector. And then a friend who lived in San Francisco invited me to come over and stay. I decided to quit my job and come to the U.S. on a sabbatical.
When I got here, I enrolled in and attended a course on Fundraising and Administration for Non-Profits at the UC Berkeley Extension. But at the same time, I was falling in love with the city and realizing that it is a culinary mecca. I’ve always been a lifelong baker. Since I was six-years- old, I was always baking for myself, for friends, for family. I had always dreamt of having a bakery one day – making my own pastries. But in Brazil it wasn’t really a possibility for me.
Once I decided to stay here a little longer, I needed to get a job doing something to make money. With the dot.com boom at the time there were plenty of jobs. I walked into La Mediterranee, a restaurant on Fillmore Street that I loved to eat at, and offered myself as an employee. The owner hired me to be his prep cook. I had no experience working in a commercial kitchen, but the moment I stepped into the kitchen, I’m like, “Oh my God, I looooove this.”
So, you learned about commercial food work by doing it?
Yes. I worked in a few restaurants, a few bakeries, and one catering company. I pretty much learned different types of businesses. It wasn’t intentional, but it was really good the way it happened. In 2005 a friend took me over to La Cocina, the non-profit kitchen incubator. She was thinking about starting her own business and La Cocina had just opened. She took me over there just to show it to me. I absolutely fell in love with it. The thought came to me that maybe I could start my own business. In order to apply to La Cocina, they required a business plan. So I went over to Women’s Initiative (which no longer exists, unfortunately) and took a business planning class. In July 2006, I applied and was accepted. I launched my company with the Brazilian Honey Cakes and the Caramelized Graham Crackers. In December 2006, I had my first account. The Pasta Shop.
So, I am assuming since you’ve been able to stay in the business and really grow, that you’re making enough to support yourself and the business?
No. I work about 24 hours a week catering. I’m here at Kika’s Treats about 40 hours a week, in the off season and more during the holiday season. I do about 40% of my sales in November and December. I need to grow, because right now it’s not a financially-viable business. I’m investing in a new website, getting more automated, etc. I am doing more in terms of promoting the products I have, to reach out to more people and to make my customer base bigger. That’s how I need to grow right now. Make more direct sales so I can balance my sales between that and wholesale.
What do you envision for the future of Kika’s Treats?
I would love to have a brick-and-mortar location, a coffee shop with pastries and cheese bread! And then that would be my main thing, the cheese bread and coffee. Maybe have one or two cakes per day.
Kimberly D. Nettles-Barcelón is an Associate Professor with research and writing interests in Black women’s resistance throughout the African Diaspora. She is also an emergent scholar of critical food studies with a particular focus on race and gendered representations of Black women and food. Nettles-Barcelón has published several articles which think through the significance of Black women’s work with food as a form of cultural and political resistance.