Success Is Sweets
How Carla Baudillo whipped up a business
Puerto Rico's self-proclaimed "New Queen of Merengue," Carla Haeussler Baudillo, doesn't reign in Latin dance. Her title comes from the airy egg-white confections that turned this spirited mother of two into the island's top maker of gourmet pastries.
It all began with a craving after the birth of her first child, Carlos, in 1993. Baudillo, now 27, started whipping up egg whites and sugar, creating bite-size miniatures of a favorite Caribbean dessert, merengue, with less sugar than most recipes. When they sold like hotcakes at her parents' gourmet cafe, she saw greater potential. Baudillo went store to store with the tiny treats, selling on consignment, and eventually landed accounts with the island's top supermarket and movie theater chains.
Soon, Carla's Sweets Corp. outgrew kitchens like baby Carlos did clothing, moving four times in five years. Except for a recent $150,000 bank loan, she financed expansions with cash flow, benefiting from a 90% tax break for island manufacturers. She now offers 14 items: seven Caribbean favorites such as pastelillitos de guayaba, an airy guava pastry, and assorted brownies and cookies. Last year her 25 workers, many subsidized through the U.S. welfare-to-work program, cooked up $650,000 in sales.
Baudillo comes from a long line of entrepreneurs, and her family has been key to her success. Her father loaned an early $2,000, and a sister designed her logo. Carla also poached her husband, Carlos A. Perez, 36, from investment bank Oriental Financial Group to handle finances. "He didn't take it seriously until...he saw that first check," she says. There's nothing like the ka-ching! of the cash register to make a merengue swing.
By John Paul Marino in Bayamon, Puerto Rico
This article was originally published in the Mar. 1, 1999 print edition of Business Week's Enterprise.