Jessica Cervantes says she's a terrible cook.
"When I cook, people know to have Pizza Hut's number close by," she joked. So, how does this 21 year-old Cuban woman and self-proclaimed inadequate cook end up running a delicious baking business?
Blame it on her sweet tooth, her Cuban grandmother's baking lessons and Jessica's own entrepreneurial skills and creative mind. At the age of 16, in what started out as a high school project for a class, Jessica created her own cupcake business plan.
"I realized there was a little something called 'competitive advantage' so I started thinking what I could do to really make my project huge," Cervantes told HuffPost.
That's when she came up with the idea of PopsyCakes, a brand that would sell cake pops -- cupcakes on a stick. "They're a great on-the-go treat, but you're still getting a delicious cake," said Cervantes. "And then I started thinking I should make the whole treat edible, so now we use pretzel sticks because they're sturdier and I really like that sweet and salty flavor."
Her teacher saw great potential in her project and urged her to join the Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) national business plan contest, where she competed against 25,000 business students across the country. Jessica's proposal came in first place and she won a sum of $10,000 to develop her own company. With the money, she bought new equipment and necessary licensing for her brand.
Today, PopsyCakes has over 50 different kiosks in Miami and New York.
Jessica was born in La Havana, Cuba, and moved with her family to the U.S. when she was 6 years old. The 21-year-old entrepreneur is now a junior at the University of Miami majoring in microbiology. She has an internship at the Miami Center of Dermatology where she shadows physicians and prepares biopsy kits and volunteers on weekends at the Miami Children's Hospital. Cervantes wants to apply to medical school to become a dermatologist.
HuffPost LatinoVoices talked to Cervantes about her favorite desserts and why she can't eat Cuban food every day.
Why did you decide to do your junior year business project on cupcakes?
When it was time to do my final project, I thought, what can I actually make as a 16-year-old, when I have no capital to start with and have this passion? And people kept telling me, "Turn your hobby into something you can make money out of," and well, my hobby was baking, so I did it. I knew cupcakes were in high demand and I wanted to out my decorative skills to good use!
How has the business changed since you first opened PopsyCakes?
When I first started I was able to custom make them, have special flavors and even add pictures to them. But now we've switched that into wholesale. I used to have like literally 27 different flavors and now we have 5 standard flavors. I had a Facebook page and people would call me and make special requests. I didn't realize I was losing money because I would lose so much batter making one cupcake.
Are your family members fans of Cake Pops?
Of course they are! They are my number one supporters. My family was always used to me baking flan and Spanish desserts so when I told them I was going to start baking cupcakes, they were super excited to try something new.
How has your family supported your Popsy Cakes dream?
They love eating PopsyCakes, and they love the fact that I was the first in the family to start a business. Everyone has really pitched in to make PopsyCakes a success.
I'm guessing Cake Pops are high in demand among your friends?
When my friends come home all they want is for me to bake them cupcakes. But I did that for three straight years and I'm done. I would rather bake anything else. I’m sticking to cookies and ice cream for a while, even though I always have a PopsyCake here and there -- for quality control, of course.
What's your favorite Cuban dish?
Oh, I love Cuban food, but it's so bad because myself and my family have big hips and big thighs, so I can't eat it every day! But, I love it. My favorite is bistec empanizado with arroz (breaded fried steak with rice) and frijoles (beans) and maduros (sautéed sweet plantains) and yucca and tostones (plantains) y todo!
Jessica Shares A Recipe:
Recipe: Chocolate Brownie Delight PopsyCakes
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 1 tsp powdered vanilla 2 cups sugar 1 cup buttermilk (1 cup milk +1 tbl. vinegar) 3/4 cups cocoa powder 2 eggs 1 tsp baking soda 3/4 cups melted milk chocolate 1 tsp baking powder 1/2 cup coffee (1/2 cup hot water with 1 tsp. instant coffee) 1/2 tsp salt 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- Mix together dry ingredients in large mixing bowl
- In separate bowl combine milk, vegetable oil and eggs, then add to dry ingredients
- Divide the batter in two (not necessarily equal) portions
- Add chocolate to one batch to your likening
- Slowly mix in 1/4 a cup of coffee to the other batch and now mix the two batters
- Bake, cool, and insert pretzel rod into cupcake
- Cover with melted chocolate and decorate!
UPDATE: Following initial publication, this article was updated to include additional information received from the chef.