Baking Mama: How a Fil-Am couple built Hoboken’s best-kept secret

Tina with Drew Barrymore and Ross Matthews, who named Baking Mama’s holiday cookie “Hallelujah It’s Raining Mint!” Contributed photo

Cookie fans across New Jersey have declared theirs the best chocolate chip cookie in the state. Eat This, Not That says that their brownies are the best in the state. And last December, Drew Barrymore invited them to her daily show to talk about their cookies.

The husband and wife team of Dominic and Tina Rivera runs Baking Mama, a small bakeshop in Hoboken. Last month, Baking Mama’s holiday cookie became an instant bestseller immediately after Tina appeared on The Drew Barrymore Show where they gave the cookie a unique and catchy name: “Hallelujah It’s Raining Mint.”

“It was exciting and nerve-wracking, but it was really fun. She was really nice. And at the same time, it was a good experience for Baking Mama, so that people will also know that even we were just small but we also have good baked goods,” Tina told the Asian Journal.

Located on Hudson Street, a couple of blocks away from the PATH train to the city, the small mom-and-pop bakeshop gets healthy foot traffic. Well, until the pandemic happened in 2020.

“We were all scared. We didn’t know what to do,” the couple shared.

Dominic and Tina’s family helped in the bakeshop during the pandemic to keep the business afloat. Contributed photo

There was a point where Dom and Tina and their kids were all working to keep the business afloat as neighboring businesses began to close one by one and the volume of orders dipped drastically.

Then came the slow reopening of businesses and the business picked up once more.

“I guess it’s the vibrant community of Hoboken that really helped us during the pandemic,” Tina said. “People ordered small cakes, cupcakes for their celebration. I guess they also wanted some semblance of normalcy.”

Tina is likewise thankful to their landlord for giving them a break on their rent and that they were able to get a small grant from a private company to help in their operations.

Hobby-turned-passion

Tina started baking as a hobby, even back home in the Philippines. She remembers taking up classes under Sylvia Reynoso Gala and Chocolate Lovers in Cubao to learn more about baking and pastries.

When she gave birth to their son 27 years ago and she had some downtime so she had more time to bake. She continued doing that even in their new life in America, baking for family and friends, and sometimes, she’d bring her baked goods to the church.

 

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The hobby became a passion, something she did on the side while on a full-time corporate job. They began attending fairs and markets and showcased her French macarons.

By this time, the couple’s son was already a college student at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, and one day, the couple passed by a spot that looked perfect for a small bakeshop. They took a major leap.

That was five years ago.

Today, despite the little hiccup brought about by the pandemic, Baking Mama is doing well. They are slowly regaining the steady stream of customers similar to what they experienced before the pandemic.

Dominic and Tina even got a second location which they use for private parties and small workshops for moms and their kids who want to learn the basics of baking.

Not bad for a bakeshop that they initially thought would be all about French macarons. Then people would ask if they have cupcakes and cookies as well. Tina listened to what the customers wanted and their tiny bakeshop evolved.

Tina proudly shows their bakeshop’s bestsellers, including what Yelp calls the best chocolate chip cookie in New Jersey

Among the bakeshop’s bestsellers are chocolate chip cookies, French macarons, cakes, and bonbons. They found out about Yelp declaring their classic chocolate chip cookies the best in the state through a church-mate who told them the good news.

Asked about the secret why their classic chocolate chip is New Jersey’s favorite, Tina said there are no secrets.

“Just the quality of ingredients, that’s it,” she said, adding that almost all cookies have the same base recipes. “It’s just how you incorporate different types of chocolate, different types of cocoa powder. And the quality is really important.”

Having their own bakeshop opened an opportunity for Tina to showcase a bit of her Filipino culture and this she did by introducing her ube cookies, leche flan, and ube leche flan. Occasionally, they make other Filipino specialties like cassava cake and brazo de mercedes.

Tina’s passion for baking dates back to her youth in the Philippines. Here, she turns sentimental as she explains why she put an old birthday photo on display in the bakeshop, saying that cakes have always been a part of family celebrations and milestones. AJPress Photo by Momar G. Visaya

Last week, Tina introduced her version of silvanas, a delicious treat made with cashew meringue wafer with buttercream filling. She said it is one of her favorite sweet treats from her childhood in the Philippines.

Through the past six years, the Rivera couple has learned several lessons as they navigate the world of small business.

Kung love mo yung ginagawa mo, everything will follow, magiging madali lahat. Although being an entrepreneur, ang hirap hirap,” she shared. “Having a retail shop entails a lot of patience.”

She added that she also learned how to be kind to everyone, even if some of them are not kind to you and even to the people who say they are evil because they sell their macarons for $2.50 apiece.

Dominic echoed what Tina said, remembering an old man from the neighborhood who talked to him outside the bakeshop a few weeks into the opening.

“He told me, ‘Just be nice to people’ and I always go back to that. Yun lang naman talaga eh, just be nice to people,” he said.

Momar G. Visaya

Momar G. Visaya is the Executive Editor of the Asian Journal. You can reach him at momar.visaya@asianjournalinc.com.

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