Chinese philosopher and strategist Sun Tzu (b. 544 BC) said that “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” While 2020 was marred by catastrophe and inconvenience, the year also spurned growth and innovation. Businesses adapted their policies and products to accommodate an increasingly digitized world, as the work-from-home and stay-at-home models gained traction worldwide. At the individual level, people deprived of social activity and alienated from normal life took up new hobbies and creative pursuits – like cooking, gaming, working out, reading, writing, meditating, learning a language, pickleball, e-commerce and DIY projects – which meaningfully impacted their lives and those of the people around them.
One such lasting legacy came in the form of Vane Vainilla, a local cake shop based in Lima, Peru. Vane Vainilla’s founder and namesake, Vanessa Cisneros, attributes the business’s launch in February of 2021 to the stillness and quiet time of reflection she experienced during the previous year’s lockdown. During its first two years, the start-up has grown considerably, even as Vanessa doubles as a full-time Business Analyst. This week, she eagerly agreed to chat about her passion for baking, foray into the world of entrepreneurship, and plans to take her fledgling company to another level. The following is the account of a live 60-minute interview conducted remotely and translated into English. I trust you will find Vanessa’s answers and curated photos to be candid, insightful, and appetizing. You can follow Vane Vainilla on Instagram for a gallery of past work and future publications @vanevainillacakeshop
[For the complete archive of interviews, click here.]
Tell the people a little about yourself.
My name is Vanessa Cisneros. I’m 28 years old. I live in Lima, which is the capital of Peru, with my family and my cat, Tom. I currently work for a company in the organic farming and sustainability industries. In college, I studied administration with a focus on marketing, and I am responsible for all of our business marketing strategy. A fun fact about me is that I’m a big coffee drinker and I love frequenting coffee shops.
How did your passion for baking grow?
I learned from conversations with my mom that I used to fashion small cakes with dirt when I was three years old and loved all activities that involved sweets. However, it was my grandmother’s influence that grew my love for baking most of all. When I was on vacation from school, I would stay at my grandmother’s house. My grandmother was always in the kitchen cooking up something delicious. In the evenings she would make flour cookies and cakes. When I was 9 years old, my grandmother taught me how to cook. I believe that experience motivated me to explore my love for the kitchen even further and expand on the things she taught me.
With that goal in mind, I convinced my mom to enroll me in baking classes at a local institute. I was about 12 or 13 at the time. I remember being the only young person in the program because they only let people who had finished high school enroll. However, they made an exception in my case on the condition that an adult accompanied me, and so my mom came along for the ride.
The program was for two years, but I only finished one year because it conflicted with my standard academic and volleyball schedules. In the end, I decided to prioritize those things over my love for baking. However, in that one year I learned a lot and gained enough of a foundation to experiment with various kinds of cakes that we did not get to cover.
What makes a good baker? How does baking differ from other culinary arts?
I believe there is an inner passion that people who love to bake possess. It is the good feeling you get when you see others happy, and I believe sweets have that effect on people. When people are sad or want to celebrate, they typically like to eat something sweet like chocolate to elevate their mood. Sweets bring joy, and that joy inspires people to bake.
I also think my personality drew me to the art of baking. I’m a really creative person. I love doing unique things. For example, I love making unique cakes that can’t be replicated.
Are you yourself a sweet-tooth?
Absolutely. Two of my favorite desserts are Carrot Cake and Suspiro de Limeña, a famous Peruvian dish. It consists of a creamy, caramel-like pudding.
You do Pilates and swim multiple times a week. How do you balance your love for sweets with your resolve to be healthy?
I believe life is all about balance. I find balance by exercising and making my consumption of sweets a special occasion. For the last five years, I haven’t consumed sugary drinks or added sugar in any other context. But I give myself the pleasure of enjoying desserts to fulfill the need I have for something sweet in my life.
When did you start Vane Vanilla?
It was a year after the pandemic, in February of 2021. Prior to then, I would only make sweets for my family and friends. I always wanted to have a small business, but I didn’t know how to do it, and I didn’t have much time to invest because I was busy studying and working. However, when the pandemic happened and everything shut down, it gave me a time of stillness at home that brought that old dream in me back to life. That was when I decided to move forward with the idea.
What does the menu at Vane Vanilla consist of?
Every kind of cake you can imagine. I also do cupcakes and cookies.
How do you acquire business?
I work full-time during the day, so I make time at night to take orders, and I schedule deliveries on the weekend. If a delivery is too urgent for my schedule, then I am unable to fulfill it. However, I do everything in my power to attend to people and their requests. It’s been a couple of years since we started, so I have a network of past customers that will often refer their family members and friends.
I also run Facebook ads that help me advertise the business. I plan to run a campaign in the next few weeks to generate more sales.
Do you plan on growing the business?
Right now Vane Vainilla is a small local business that only accepts on-demand orders. We don’t produce at scale or keep an inventory. Later on the plan is to have a shop where people can pick up pre-made cakes. I also want to expand our digital presence. I am working on getting a website set up to promote the business that might later accept online orders to be picked up locally in Lima.
What has been your favorite baking experience?
There is one order I particularly enjoyed because it was super challenging. The customer asked me to make a cake for Mother’s Day. But they wanted the cake to be like a pastel del novio [wedding-style], compact and delicious with dried fruit and raisins. I had just launched Vane Vainilla and run some ads on Facebook. This was one of the first orders I received, and I had never made a cake like this before. I ended up making two, just to be safe in case something went wrong. Luckily, both cakes turned out excellently, and my family and I got to enjoy the “plan b” at home. Overall, it was a fun, memorable experience to do something I had never done before.
What about your biggest baking fail?
My biggest baking fail happened during a time when we were unusually busy and my mind was distracted. I made some cupcakes with merengue italiano [sweetened egg whites]. The merengue italiano contains egg and so if it isn’t refrigerated it melts. I had the order ready to be delivered but I forgot to put it in the refrigerator. When I got home, I realized that the egg whites had melted one hour before the delivery. I called the customer and let them know the order was going to be delayed because I had to make it afresh. I gifted them some extra cupcakes for the inconvenience and to help hold them over.
In the end, everything turned out okay. The moral of the story is to double-check that everything is in the right place.
This is the rapid-fire round. I’m going to ask you several questions in quick succession. You can limit your answers to no more than a few words or sentences.
Hardest baked good to make?
Pastel de novio [Peruvian wedding cake] due to the compact texture.
Favorite non-baked good to eat?
Lomo saltado [traditional Peruvian stir-fry].
A cat. Cats are independent and highly intelligent.
Rainy and about 12° Celsius [~°54 Fahrenheit].
Favorite Peruvian celebrity?
Mario Vargas Llosa. He is a Nobel-winning Peruvian novelist.
Favorite foreign celebrity?
Sameer Gadhia, the lead singer of Young the Giant.
Country you most want to visit?
I make hand-made clothing designs.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
To be able to read minds.
Something people don’t know about you?
I’m an open book, I think they know everything!
Saying or motto you live by?
If I don’t do it, nobody else will. My actions will ultimate determine where I end up in life. No one else can take them for me.
Where do you envision yourself in the future, both personally and professionally?
Professionally, I’d like to apply the knowledge I’ve learned from my career to transform Vane Vanilla from a local to a national business. I envision myself working for Vane Vainilla as a manager/administrator overseeing a larger operation. Personally, I’d like to travel and tour various countries. I also want to start a family.
Every year I conquer a fear. Last year I went surfing in Makaha and Los Yuyos, and it was the craziest fear I’ve conquered to date. A fear I want to conquer in the future is the fear of working for myself full-time at Vane Vainilla. Let’s hope one day I can make it a reality!