By Vic Dolcourt

Cake Therapy choc cake“I didn’t originally plan to go into business selling Paleo baking mixes. It just happened. Circumstances conspired, and I’m glad they did,” said Monica Espinoza, the talent behind Cake Therapy, and also a full-time community college counselor in San Jose. “It all started with my mom.”

Developing a new approach to dessert

“Unfortunately, my mom has both a sweet tooth and diabetes,” she said. “My sisters and I have been baking forever. We even attended a cake decorating class together and know how to make fancy cakes. So I figured I could bake something for my mom that she could enjoy and that would be safer than off-the-shelf desserts – you know, the lesser of evils. The diabetes-friendly desserts on the market weren’t very good. Neither were the diabetes baking books I bought. But the books were an inspiration.”

Cake Therapy ingredientsMonica said that she made a number of trips to Whole Foods searching for novel ingredients to lower the glycemic index of desserts through the choice of different flours and nuts rather than white flour and refined sugar. After a lot of trials, Monica came up with a series of recipes that produced excellent cakes and cookies. “I took my experiments to work and shared them with staff. They really loved them, and they encouraged me to go into business selling cakes. They said that the public deserved to have these cakes. They even helped me name my business.”

Streamlining the business

Monica tried a number of alternatives, including selling decorated cakes she made in a rented commercial kitchen. She felt this approach was taking up too much time and energy, and was both expensive and risky. Finally, she hit upon a business approach that worked for her. “Rather than selling decorated cakes directly to the public, I would sell baking mixes through stores. These recipes contained no grains, so they were both naturally gluten-free and Paleo. It made sense to focus on both the Paleo and gluten-free communities. So, I went through the process of researching and finding out how to sell to supermarkets.”

The audition


Monica Espinoza

Her first foray into retail food was through New Leaf Community Markets, purchased by New Seasons Markets of Oregon at the end of 2013. “It took perseverance, but ultimately the New Seasons buyer set up a meeting. She loved the cakes that I baked. I knew I was successful when the buyer told her assistant ‘Here, try this.’ for each of my cakes,” Monica said. “New Seasons features foods from local producers, and they were very encouraging and helpful. I credit part of my success to their nurturing attitude. I partnered with a gluten-free co-packer who could ensure consistency. He also had packaging experience. In March of 2015 New Seasons began carrying my mixes at the San Jose Evergreen New Seasons store and Santa Cruz county New Leaf Markets.”

Quality is the key to success

Cake Therapy vanilla package“I’m sure the buyer at New Leaf could taste the quality in the cakes I brought,” said Monica. I use a number of organic ingredients, including coconut sugar, coconut flour, almond flour and some arrowroot flour. These are more expensive for me, but quality doesn’t take shortcuts. This is my niche.”

I asked Monica if she thought that the gluten-free product market had become saturated. She said, “I was at the San Francisco Fancy Food Show in mid-January of this year. One of the speakers said that gluten-free is a fad that is over. I just don’t see it. It is a necessity for people who need gluten-free, and Paleo people are really dedicated. The fad may be over for low-quality products, but I see the demand for high-quality, organic or non-GMO foods with no artificial ingredients.”

What’s on the horizon

Cake Therapy choc cake choc frostMonica has set some tough goals for this year. “I’m working on recipes for four new mixes,” said Monica. “Cake Therapy currently has three mixes, and fairly soon there will be four more, all gluten-free and Paleo-friendly. Two of these are not desserts. I’m expanding to other parts of the meal and other times of the day. Cake Therapy’s mixes are naturally gluten-free and it made sense for me to pursue gluten-free product certification. I’m sure that a gluten-free and Paleo certification will help me convince other markets to carry Cake Therapy mixes.”

Where to buy Cake Therapy mixes

Cake Therapy logoThree cake mixes are currently available directly from Cake Therapy via the website, New Leaf Community Markets in Santa Cruz County, and New Seasons Market in San Jose Evergreen. Stay tuned for the availability of Cake Therapy’s new offerings and additional availability that will be announced on Cake Therapy’s Facebook page.