Sylvia Narvaez had a happy childhood in her father’s restaurant, where she learned the art of baking, as well as some valuable life lessons, like the importance of hard work and pursuing your dreams.
Years later, raising a family, working in a factory, and on the side baking cakes that she sold from her home, Sylvia remembered her father’s words, “Never give up. Keep fighting for your goals. Make your dreams come true.”
So Sylvia and her husband did just that, and opened their own bakery, Sylvia’s Sweet Cakes. On South Main Road, at the former Burmeister’s Bakery location, the aroma of cakes and other confections permeates the air as Sylvia and her husband Jose fill the shelves daily with fresh goodies for a steady stream of customers.
For the past two months, Sylvia has been making an average of 15 custom cakes per week, as well as daily cupcakes, pastries, and cookies. In her bakery, she keeps a binder filled with photos of the cakes she’s made. The decorations on top are elaborate, from edible flowers, with each petal meticulously crafted by hand, to children’s cartoon characters, made of standing icing with incredibly accurate features, to a Sweet 16 cake in the shape of a pink sneaker, every detail down to the laces looking too realistic to eat.
“I can do any kind of cake they can dream,” Sylvia related. “When they tell me what they want, I start to sketch ideas. Sometimes I can’t sleep, I’m thinking of cake ideas.”
Sylvia was born in Manhattan, later moving to Puerto Rico and helping her father in his restaurant. “I did a little bit of everything,” she recalled. “I helped in the kitchen, with the register, a little bit of everything.”
Her mother’s specialty was pastries and Sylvia learned from both of her parents how to bake and then decorate the creations. Her two siblings also helped in the restaurant, but Sylvia took a special liking to it, she said.
When she grew up, Sylvia wasn’t completely sure what she wanted to do, so she explored her options. Sylvia’s family returned to the United States in the early 1980’s. She took cosmetology classes and criminal justice classes.
In addition to being a chef and restaurant owner, her father worked as a private detective and carpenter. He taught her the value of hard work and instilled confidence in her that she could be whatever she wanted.
Sylvia always returned to her love of baking. She attended classes at Harrisburg Community College and became a pastry chef. Later she married and had six children, one whom is handicapped and needs full-time care. Sylvia began working in a factory, caring for her family, including both parents, and making cakes at her home.
She became a Wilton Method Instructor, teaching others the techniques of making hand-made sugar flowers and decorations, and how to use rolled fondant. She taught classes at Michael’s craft store in Pottsville and hopes to one day begin teaching cake-decorating classes at her shop in Mountain Top.
Although Sylvia lives more than an hour from Mountain Top, a friend here told her of the local bakery being for sale. Her father had passed away in the spring and Sylvia remembered his advice of following her dreams.
“I thought, maybe I should just take a chance,” she recalled. “I told my husband and he said, ‘Let’s take a chance.’”
Sylvia’s Sweet Cakes was born. Beautifully-decorated cupcakes, cakes, cookies, and pastries fill the shop. The kitchen is surrounded by walls of cake-decorating supplies, from every color of sprinkle imaginable to dozens of icing piping instruments. Sylvia does the baking while her husband manages the business and helps with cleaning and other tasks.
Sylvia can take anyone’s idea for a cake and make it real. As she decorates in her kitchen, she said she thinks of her father often. Very artistic, Sylvia sketches designs with clients and then creates cakes for any occasion, from weddings and anniversaries to birthdays and other celebrations. Last week, a customer came into her shop to buy cupcakes for her family members, who were celebrating their dog’s 14th birthday.
“It’s about making that special day special for people,” Sylvia related. “My main goal is making people happy…I love baking, especially when it’s time to decorate. When they come to pick up their cakes and I see they really like them, that makes me really happy.”
Customers can visit Sylvia’s facebook page or her website, www.sylviasweetcakes.webs.com,for cake ideas or simply visit her bakery at 117 S. Main Road.