The smell of baking baguettes, cachitos and melting caramel for Venezuelan flan warms the storefront air. In a fridge behind the register stand bottles of Venezuelan Artisan Eggnog, a housemade product inspired by a family recipe. Maru Macabe finally opened her own Venezuelan cafe, Maru Products Artisanal Bakery & More, in Bloomington on Aug. 12.
Macabe grew up in Caracas, Venezuela but moved to Bloomington in 2016. As the political state of Venezula continued to decline, she said she, her parents, her partner, and two sons decided it was time to leave.
“My children are my pillars and my main support,” she said.
Macabe joked that one of her kids, Allan Hernandez, cooks better than her. She expressed appreciation for her family’s support in her goal to open a Venezuelan cafe, a place to call her own in Bloomington.
In Venezuela, her family would sometimes have to wait in line for three hours for one bagguette per person, she said. Personal hygiene products were not available and long lines formed for gas, sometimes making them wait for more than a day.
She started her Venezuelan Artisan Eggnog company in her home country in order to share her the recipes of her father, who taught her to bake throughout her childhood. When her and her family moved out of their home country, Macabe’s Venezuelan Artisan Eggnog company also moved to Bloomington.
Macabe said she and her family decided to move to Bloomington because it seemed to be a safe place for her children to finish their studies and grow. She also said the town felt like a quiet place where her parents would feel comfortable going on their walks.
After arriving in Bloomington, Macabe worked in a variety of kitchens including Viva Mas, Social Cantine and Arepas, which opened in 2019 but was replaced by La Una after 3 months. She said she often worked up to 18 hours in a day.
Eventually, she began working for Boston Stoker Coffee Co. However, not long into the job, she had a bad fall and was in the hospital for a week. During her recovery, she got back into baking in her kitchen, bringing pieces of Venezuela to Bloomington.
Cachitos, flan, pan de jamon and other baked goods became her passion. She studied to recieve her food service license this August. Next, she set her sights on buying a storefront for herself and her baking business.
As she started this journey, she began sharing her culture with others.
Every Saturday for six months, she sold her baked goods at the People’s Cooperative Market, a Community Supported Agriculture organization. The market provides access to local food and creates a space where people can share their cultures.
“(The market) was uncomfortable, as the only way to sell was getting orders online to then make the food and deliver it,” Macabe’s son Allan Hernandez said. “Now, when people ask for us, we can give them a place to come and enjoy our food any time.”
Herandez said operating a family business hasn’t been easy. However, he believes it’s worth it because they find so much joy in the work that they do. He said several members of the family have contributed to running the business, but Macabe has been the anchor.
“The heart of this place I believe lies in my mom,” Hernandez said.
After pursuing her passion, Macabe was made a part of the Emprendedoras Latinas Indiana, or Latina Entrepreneurs of Indiana. She also received a certificate of appreciation from the organization the day her cafe opened.
Macabe said she loves getting to know the Bloomington community better by having regulars come in for a coffee or a Venezuelan baked good made fresh each morning.
“This is my home,” Macabe said., “I was able to materialize my dreams and make a little of our gastronomy and culture known.”
All of the food she sells is freshly made. She said she arrives at the cafe early in the morning at 4 or 5 a.m. in order to bake the necessary items for that day. She also has to stay late at night in order to pre-bake her goods.
As Macabe was preparing a flan baking sheet by lining it with caramel, Jose Manuel Manzano walked through the door. Manzano is a family friend whose aunt was a friend of Macabe’s in Venezuela. Now, the family frequents her cafe.
“My mom loves the bread,” he said. “I’d say we come in one to three times a week.”
Macabe retrieved baguettes and cachitos from the oven for Manzano. Once he thanked her and walked out the door, Macabe went back to making her Venezuelan flan. She meticulously swirled the melted caramel in metal tins which sat in an aluminum tray. Then, she placed cold water into the tray to help set the caramel before pouring in the flan mix which consists of sugar, eggs, whole milk, vanilla extract and condensed milk.
“It’s very good,” Macabe said with a smile after finishing her preparation of the dish.
She moved on to preparing a tray of pan de jamon when a young man walked in.
As he ordered a cachito and Venezuelan cappuccino, he spoke in broken Spanish. While doing so, Macabe graciously corrected his grammar in her native language. After a shared exchange of laughs, the young man thanked her, explaining that he was trying to learn Spanish. Once Macabe gave him his order, he thanked her again in Spanish and walked out the glass double doors.
Macabe said college students often come in to practice their Spanish, which adds to her love of sharing her culture with the Bloomington community.
“Leaving a trace of our flavors, our smells, our culture, and being able to share it with everyone in this town is a blessing, for me, and for my family,” Macabe said.