Story by CYNTHIA MCFARLAND • Photos by BRETT GOLDIN
Ariana Lee Caraballo
There’s no doubt that the pandemic shutdown of 2020 left many businesses reeling. Yet, for Ariana Lee Caraballo it provided a wide-open door to launch ALC Artistic Bakery. She has not slowed down since.
To say this 20-year-old is an overachiever is an understatement. Ariana has been baking since elementary school, and starting her own Latin-based bakery was a dream she nourished from the age of 10.
“I have severe food allergies, so I wasn’t able to eat at birthday parties or sleepovers. That pushed me to start making my own sweets and to want to help others as well,” says Ariana, who is allergic to peanuts, eggs, and red dye, along with being sensitive to gluten. Having family members with diabetes also provided incentive for her to bake differently.
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Ariana moved with her family to Florida during high school and is a 2019 graduate of West Port High School. As a child, Ariana learned in the kitchen, carefully watching her mother, Esmirna Caraballo. When Ariana baked and decorated her first cake at the age of nine, she knew she had found her passion.
And, yes, those televised cooking shows definitely inspired this professional baker. She still enjoys watching reality shows and says Cake Boss remains her favorite.
“I have severe food allergies, so I wasn’t able to eat at birthday parties or sleepovers.”-Ariana Lee Caraballo
Her artistic inclinations extend beyond the kitchen. Drawing since she was a toddler, Ariana found her comfort zone in creativity—whether that meant baking, drawing, or painting. Hence, the name of her business, which combines her favorite things.
“Our family has a sweet tooth, so being able to make our own baked goods, when and how we wanted, was a plus. And that was the inspiration for my bakery,” she adds.
Social media has been a boon to ALC Artistic Bakery; orders are made online via Facebook or email. Customers either pick up their items, or Ariana delivers them in Ocala. She loves special orders, such as making sweets for people in cancer centers. In addition to “regular” baked goods, ALC Artistic Bakery offers vegan and gluten-free options.
Latin flavor abounds as the bakery features guava pastries, cream cheese pastries, flan, tres leches cake, custom cakes and sugar cookies, which she hand-decorates with Royal icing,
Ariana’s best-sellers are her vegan guava pastries and her sugar cookies, which she often customizes with a business logo or other special design. She’s also in demand for sweets catering and catered breakfasts.
“I’m in the kitchen baking every day and also painting murals,” says Ariana, whose artwork can be found in local residences and at the Hispanic Business Council of Ocala, of which she is a member and sponsor.
A typical day sees Ariana starting at 5:00 or 5:30 a.m. Her home-based commercial kitchen has multiple stoves, ovens, and refrigerators, along with ample counters and tables for additional workspace.
After turning on the ovens, she starts her prep work, laying out all the ingredients for the day’s baking. Depending on the orders, she’s usually done by mid-afternoon, but the day runs later if she has a catering project. For catering jobs, her family usually works with her.
About 50 percent of the bakery’s orders are from people requesting vegan baked goods, which Ariana says is often due to allergies—something she clearly understands.
One of her recent client requests was for gluten-free, nut-free, vegan chocolate cupcakes. “You’re only working with a handful of ingredients, so it was an experiment, but they turned out well and tasted amazing,” says Ariana.
In fact, experimenting with ingredients is one of this baker’s favorite challenges, and she always relishes the opportunity to try something unexpected. “If I don’t like the taste or texture, I will change things out,” she notes. “For example, with vegan cakes, some will come out too moist. I’ve tried different ingredients so people don’t automatically think, ‘this is vegan,’ when they bite into it.”
Ariana points out that oil and butter give cakes different textures, as can various flours. “Baking vegan can change the texture of a cake because some vegan products taste thick and dense, and I want my cakes more fluffy than dense,” she says. For fat in vegan cakes, Ariana opts for coconut and organic vegetable oils. She uses regular all-purpose flour, as well as almond flour and gluten-free flour. To sweeten vegan baked goods, she uses both regular granulated sugar and also cane sugar, which is coarser and more golden until it is baked.
Ariana was attending college, but when in-person classes stopped last year, due to Covid-19, she put all her efforts into the bakery. She plans to return to school, and the goal is to become a commercial/residential architect. She also dreams of having a brick-and-mortar location in Ocala for her bakery.
“Once our physical location opens, there will be a lot of gluten-free and vegan options. That’s what I’m here for: to accommodate people’s needs, when it comes to sweets.” The plan is for ALC Artistic Bakery to have a physical location by the end of 2021. “I’m ready!” says Ariana.