Two bankrupt artists opened a home bakery and it's a pandemic hit

By Natalie Kitroeff


MEXICO CITY - A toaster oven may not be the ideal appliance to open a bakery, but we are in a pandemic and everyone is doing the best they can with what they have.


And what two artists in Mexico City had was a $ 42 toaster oven

"We were broke," Andrea Ferrero said. He shrugged and his elbows stuck out of the bowl of pie crust. "We buy it on credit."


Like so many others around the world, trapped in confinement due to the coronavirus, Ferrero and her boyfriend, David Ayala-Alfonso, began baking several months ago to escape relentless boredom.

Continue reading the main storyIt turned out they had a talent for it.

So they started an addictive Instagram account, Quarantine Baking, to showcase their cookies, cakes, and donuts. And since then they have accumulated hundreds of clients. With a viable business, they have moved from their small apartment to a bigger place, one with a real oven.


Its success, rare good news in a country hit by the coronavirus , is testament to the power of cooking as a survival strategy in a city obsessed with food.

Before the arrival of the virus, the streets of Mexico City were already full of taco stands, bicycle vendors serving tamales and carts offering roasted sweet potatoes or corn covered in mayonnaise, cheese and chili powder. The pandemic and the resulting loss of millions of jobs across the country has seen more people putting their skills to the test in selling homemade food.


"In Mexico, people's kitchen is home, and street food is people's home brought to the street," said Pati Jinich, a Mexican chef and cookbook author . “Those who do not have resources can prepare the food that they ate as children or that they were taught. Or the only one they have on hand ”.

Throughout the city there is a flourishing of so-called ghost kitchens, often set up in apartments, and dedicated exclusively to preparing food for home delivery.


When his family's catering business lost steam, Jonathan Weintraub and his brother Gabriel began selling pastrami sandwiches under the nickname " Schmaltzy Bros Delicatessen ." After being laid off from her job, Fahrunnisa Bellak turned bagel making into a full-time job and is now opening a store .


Encouraged by his wife, Pedro Reyes, who writes about food, he decided to package and sell his popular salsa macha , a spicy preparation filled with peanuts. He said his company has a natural market in Mexico City, where an inordinate part of the conversation revolves entirely around food.


“A lot of people like to eat well and they boast of knowing what and where to eat,” Reyes said. “I think that helps a lot to open up to this as a business; say to this 'dude, I want to ask for cookies and the other guy I want to ask for paella' ”.


The popularity of Quarantine Baking has a lot to do with its Instagram account, which every day features close-ups of the owners' confections, such as the image of sticky filling smeared on a brownie or spilled on cakes. Instead of advertising an unattainable luxury for those who explore the web in search of fantasy, it offers something affordable for people who have 1.75 dollars (less than 40 Mexican pesos) to spend in a lot of pure enjoyment.


At first, the couple posted photos only for their friends, who would send them tequila or homemade hummus in exchange for samples. Then friends of friends started placing orders.Continue reading the main


Someone asked for a menu, so they came up with one that included babkas, donuts, sourdough bread, and then cakes and brownies . Except for the sourdough bread, the couple had never made any of these delicacies before their 40s. In the beginning, everything that wasn't cakes was cooked in the toaster oven.


The move to a new apartment has given the couple just a little more control over the mess of operating an entire bakery from home during a global health crisis.


"I plan obsessively," Ferrero said. "And then the chaos."


Your home looks like what would happen if Santa's workshop were in a college dorm. The kitchen can accommodate a maximum of four people. The assembly area is crammed into what would be a modest second bedroom. Your garbage can is an upside down stool with a garbage bag placed on all four legs.

On a recent Saturday, while frantically whipping a cake, then brownie batter , Ferrero asked himself the following questions: "Did I put eggs in this yet?" (No). "Did we run out of vanilla?" (Yes). "Was this cake supposed to have three layers?" (So ​​it was).


He glanced at the to-do list for the day — 61 jars filled with cake, frosting, and crumbled cookies, a mix that is a best-seller; 162 brownies ; 38 cookies; and three cakes — and he picked up his phone to reply to the messages that flooded his inbox.


"Can I go pick up the order now?" He said, reading one aloud. "No!".


Ferrero, originally from Peru, is a sculptor, and Ayala-Alfonso, born in Colombia, is a curator, trades that are at least tangentially connected to the construction of mass structures and the creation of an attractive visual atmosphere on Instagram.ntinue reading the main story

But their transformation into professional bakers has not been without its mishaps.


They've started multiple oven fires, shipped countless incomplete or late orders, and once a delivery man with several brownies and a cheesecake went missing . They constantly run out of ingredients.In recent months, Ayala-Alfonso said, they have worked to perfect their art, searching YouTube for videos about “how to make a cake,” and “why does my cake fall,” and “what is the difference between baking soda and chemical yeast ”. They have also recently hired an artist friend, Yorely Valero, to help them handle the flood of orders a few days a week.


They have developed a special intimacy with clients. People ask them to write love notes to the people they like on top of the boxes of brownies .


A regular customer asked Ferrero not to draw the hearts he always uses on a box that was to be given as a six-month anniversary gift to a boyfriend, because it might scare him. “I said, 'sure, good luck!'” Says Ferrero.


“There is more interaction on social media due to the quarantine, so people really talk to us,” Ayala-Alfonso said. "Our account is a support line."


At 2:00 p.m. on a recent Saturday, when the orders officially began to be delivered, a small crowd of couriers and customers were waiting outside the headquarters of the Cuarentena bakery, which is on a tree-lined street in Roma Norte, a hipster neighborhood. south of the city center. One woman, who had waited ten minutes, let out a long sigh and a terse "thank you" when Ayala-Alfonso handed her a box of cookies.ontinue reading the main story

Half an hour later, the woman sent a message to the Instagram account: "It was worth the wait;)".

The post about “Two bankrupt artists opened a home bakery and it's a pandemic hit" first appeared on the NY Times website.


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