HAVERSTRAW, N.Y. -- Eva Rivera of Haverstraw started making cakes about five years ago as works of art, a form of expression for her creative side. In September, she dove full-time into her craft, opening Bella Sophia Sugar Crafts in her hometown.
Rivera started making cakes for friends and family. Word quickly spread. “I thought let me see what I can do with this,’’ Rivera said. “It didn’t start out that I wanted to open a business. It was just a way to say who I am and what I’m about, and somehow, we ended here.”
Rivera’s store is located at 2 New Main St., Suite, 2 in Haverstraw. Her business model goes well-beyond the usual bakery shop. She offers cakes, cupcakes, whoopie pies, cake pops and cookies. Rivera will also make specialty cakes for weddings and other celebrations, and can create a dessert bar for people who want an assortment of sweets.
Finally, Rivera will also offer classes so that others can learn her sweet baking secrets.
“I’ve always had a creative side,’’ Rivera said. “I started out sewing, then I got into scrapbooking and photography. I enjoy anything that’s creative. I took all of that creative energy and put it into this.”
Rivera got the business bug about two years ago and wanted to stay in Haverstraw. “I grew up in this town and didn’t want to steer away from here,’’ she said. “I wanted to make my town a little better and bring something unique to it.”
She discovered the current location, which had been a former cigar shop. She arranged a meeting with the landlord and brought with her a business plan -- and a cake. “I put the cake and some other items in front of him,’’ Rivera said. “I said taste this first, and then we can talk. I wanted to show him what I could do. If he liked it, we wouldn’t need to talk that much.”
Shortly afterwards, the landlord agreed to lease the space to Rivera. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy,’’ she said. “It was as rewarding as the day I had children.”
Before she could open, however, Rivera needed to update and modernize the space. “My husband and Mom walked in and they were like ‘No, this isn’t going to happen.’’’ The determined Rivera went to work on brightening the place that she now calls her work home. “I wanted it to be very simple and chic,’’ Rivera said. “I love vintage everything.”
Rivera bakes her products at an adjacent restaurant, UNoodles, and uses her space for prep work. She said the hardest part in launching the business was drafting a plan to pitch to the town and landlord.
“It took me forever,’’ she said. “Sometimes it had me in tears. I had help from some of the business people here, and the town trustees. They’ve been great to me and helped me with it. It took about six months. Writing a business plan is not something I’m very good at. Just leave me in a kitchen.”
Even before she opened her business, Rivera drew praise for her creations. The Knot, a popular website for couples planning their wedding , awarded Bella Sophia five stars for its products and service.
Rivera, who worked at the Salvation Army as an imaging specialist before launching the business, said she tries to tell a personal story with each of her wedding cakes. “I like to sit down with the bride and hear what their story is and how they fell in love,’’ Rivera said. “I try to incorporate that into the cake or the dessert bar. I want to tell their story and make it personal to them.”
Cooking with her grandmother fostered a love of cooking and baking for Rivera. She also considered teaching as a career. “That why I wanted to do classes,’’ she said. “It’s a rewarding experience for people, especially children. They’ll make something and say ‘I’m a chef now!’ It’s the cutest thing.”
Rivera found her passion and connected with her creative side. It’s a marriage built to last, even with the pressure that can sometimes come with nervous brides-to-be and cakes that have to be created from scratch and perfect each and every time.
“When I have it on the table, stacked and ready to go, I’m excited,’’ Rivera said. “I’m also excited for the other person who’s going to see it. I want them to be happy with it. I can think whatever I want, but the most important thing to me is that they are happy with it.”
For more information on Bella Sophia, click here to visit the business website.