What I Do: Reine Bayoc of SweetArt

Step inside SweetArt during a bustling Saturday afternoon, and you’ll find it hard to believe co-owners Reine and Cbabi Bayoc had never worked in a restaurant when they opened in 2008. Cheerful staff pipe frosting onto mini cupcakes and prep vegetables behind the counter while they chat with regulars. Others dine at a community table, surrounded by Cbabi Bayoc’s colorful, family-focused artwork. 

The Bayocs’ recipe for success: hard work, relentless optimism and a vegan menu that delights omnivores and herbivores alike. Here, Reine Bayoc shares her thoughts on baked goods, honest conversation and serving more than great cupcakes.

Starting out
“It worked in the beginning because it had to. We spent all our money to open this, and we didn’t take out a loan. We had three kids and a couple hundred dollars left. When you’re in that sort of do-or-die situation, you do. So we did.”

On vegetarian and vegan food
“We don’t put out anything unless it tastes delicious. It’s not one of those ‘It’s delicious – for vegan.’ It has to be delicious, period.”

Mom’s buttermilk biscuits
“On Saturdays we have these biscuits … that remind me of my mother’s biscuits, and they are the best baked good in the shop. … I’ve had people come in and say, ‘This is better than Popeye’s!’ And look, to black people, when you come in and say a biscuit is better than Popeye’s – what? That is a spectacular biscuit.”

Beyond sweets
“It’s so not about cupcakes and cookies. People come here (when) they could go anywhere and they come here for a reason. … That’s the energy that we are trying to create. Everyone has a day; some people have really long days. Everyone has a life, and some people have really hard lives, and they come here to release a little bit.

Fostering dialogue
“We have people from all walks of life and all nationalities and ethnicities who feel comfortable (here). And I don’t know how that happens. I don’t know if it's the art, I don't know if it’s (the) cupcakes, I don’t know if it's the staff, but they come and they feel safe, so I feel like that made it easier for us to have those open dialogues (about) racial issues.”

Pursuit of perfection
“Everything evolves. Even our traditional baked goods evolve. I’ve changed probably 90 percent of our recipes in the last year. I’m constantly pushing it just a little bit further.”

On confidence
“In the beginning I questioned myself so much because I didn’t go to culinary school. (I thought), ‘Oh, but I’ve worked really hard and I think I’m good at this and people seem to like it.’ … Now there is no ego in this. I come in, I put on my apron, I get to work, and I don’t question myself. If I think it’s good, it’s good.”