Can you remember when you first fell in love with food and drink?
It was as early as six or seven years old, thanks to my grandmother who usually let me steal the bowl with cake batter or let me help her with the baking. But above everything, it was when I realised how food brings people together and creates the greatest memories. I come from a very humble family in Venezuela. Although money wasn’t freely available, food became our currency and the means to build memories and strengthen relationships no matter the distance.
Tell us a little bit about your life before Just Because Treats?
I’m a digital marketer by profession, who has worked with well-known multinationals as well as assisting small businesses to get started with their own digital marketing on a consultancy basis. I’ve always wanted to launch and market my own products and be able to implement all those amazing digital tactics I couldn’t easily implement at work due to lack of senior management buy-in, internal politics or budget constraints. Although still in its infancy, I’ve managed to implement things with Just Because Treats in less than two months that have taken at least 18 months in the corporate world. I love the agility one has to implement, test and optimise, understanding what works and what doesn’t because there is so much you can learn interpreting data.
How did you land on the concept of Just Because Treats?
This is an interesting one. I’d summarise it as the sum of 1) honouring my roots and love of food; 2) addressing a stigma; and 3) building memorable experiences. I came to the UK supposedly for two years but 17 years have now passed and I’m still here. Last year, I was so missing the baking times with my grandma, the stops by the street food vendors at dawn, heading to the coast on weekends, and overall longing of enjoying my home food with family and friends that I thought: "what if I attempt to replicate those flavours and share them with those interested here?"
Our diet in Venezuela is naturally gluten-free as it is mainly based in corn rather than wheat. For us, treats are synonymous with fun, happiness and celebration. However, in the UK and Europe treats are perceived as the enemy and something that has to be avoided at all cost. By providing access to indulgent treats, my goal is to help remove the stigma and prejudice associated with people enjoying treats – all while minimising the negative effects banning treats seems to have on our mental and physical well-being by way of binge-eating and distorted body images. It’s all about balance and making conscious, informed decisions whilst enjoying fresh and simple recipes… all in moderation. Thus our tagline: "To indulge, you don’t need a reason or permission."
Most of our treats have a story, either by the way they’re made or ingredients used - although it is likely you’ll catch me also explaining how or where we used to eat them back home. Those short lessons have become conversation starters at our customer gatherings. I love when they e-mail me or catch-up at the stall to say how they proudly explained to their guests what the alfajores they had received as a gift/enjoyed for dessert are.
What do you love about alfajores?
I love their unpretentious indulgence, how they melt in your mouth whilst the different flavours and textures hit your taste buds. At first sight, you’d think they’re super-sized macarons but nothing could be further from reality. They’re made from cornflour biscuit dough instead of piped almond flour batter. Besides their original creamy dulce de leche filling, I’ve been successfully enhancing the recipe so you can now also enjoy them with luscious and mouth-watering fillings like raspberry and white chocolate, hazelnut ganache and pistachio, lemon and lime and salted caramel to name a few. You’ve got to taste them to truly enjoy that experience.
How are they best enjoyed?
Definitely with coffee! We’re so lucky to get such a great coffee quality in the UK, especially from small roasters, and they exquisitely complement our alfajores. We’ve even done a pairing with one of our lovely retailers, it was mind-blowing! Just think, our dulce de leche alfajor with a creamy charcoal latte or a salted caramel alfajor with a cortado. The combinations are endless.
What’s your best selling flavour at the moment?
Without a doubt, the hazelnut ganache and pistachio and salted caramel alfajores are leading the way, however the raspberry and white chocolate buttercream are quickly catching up. Stay tuned as our tropical limited editions launch this summer with two new flavours: piña colada and mango and passion fruit.
Other than your online shop, where’s the best place for people to buy them at the moment?
Our artisan alfajores are freshly made on the day before the farmers’ markets in Walton-on-Thames (first Saturday of each month), Ripley (second Saturday) and Cobham (fourth Saturday), as well as in Aromas Artisan Cafe in Weybridge. Soon we’ll be in Windsor and Esher too.
If you had to choose one, what’s your proudest achievement to date?
It might not sound big but it means a lot to me, it’s seeing the pleasantly surprised faces of those who try the alfajores for the first time and then buy at least one of each flavour because they want their friends or family to try them. The fact someone enjoys and wants to share the flavours and story behind the alfajores with their loved ones, it is certainly is one of my proudest moments. Oh, and the fact we were one of the top five finalists for the Muddy Stilettos Awards 2019 in the Best Newcomer category in Surrey after barely trading for seven months. That is the icing on the cake!
Are there any other Surrey food and drink businesses you particularly enjoy collaborating with?
The more I interact with other local small business, the greater my love of food, entrepreneurship and teamwork. We’re always there to help each other unconditionally and bounce ideas around. I try as much as possible to collaborate with complementary or occasion based products. A few examples of collaborations are a combo offer with Coffee4U at the local farmers’ market, using Hot Pods chilli sauces for our empanadas or being part of Distillers of Surrey’s Mothers’ Day special Love edition (gin and alfajores).
Finally, what can we expect from Just Because Treats in 2019 and onwards?
Innovative yet relevant new flavours and edible experiences whilst building awesome collaborations with local speciality/independent retailers and small businesses.