New Jersey cookie fans have declared this the best chocolate chip cookie in the state. Eat This, Not That says their brownies are the best in the state. And last December, Drew Barrymore invited them to his daily show to talk about their cookies.
The husband and wife team of Dominic and Tina Rivera run Baking Mama, a small bakery in Hoboken. Last month, Baking Mama’s holiday cookie became an instant best-seller immediately after Tina appeared on The Drew Barrymore Show, where they gave the cookie a unique and catchy name: “Hallelujah It’s Raining Mint.”
“It was exciting and nerve-wracking, but it was really fun. She was really nice. And at the same time, it was a good experience for Baking Mama, for people to also know that even we were only small, but we also have good baked goods,” Tina told the Asian newspaper.
Located on Hudson Street, a few blocks from the PATH train to town, the small, family-run bakery enjoys healthy foot traffic. Well, until the pandemic hits in 2020.
“We were all scared. We didn’t know what to do,” the couple shared.
There was a time when Dom and Tina and their children were all working to keep the business afloat as neighboring businesses began to shut down one by one and the volume of orders dropped drastically.
Then came the slow reopening of businesses and business picked up.
“I guess it’s the vibrant community of Hoboken that has really helped us through the pandemic,” Tina said. “People were ordering cupcakes, cupcakes for their party. I guess they also wanted some semblance of normality.
Tina is also grateful to their landlord for giving them a break on their rent and being able to get a small grant from a private company to help with their operations.
Hobby turned passion
Tina started cooking as a hobby, even back home in the Philippines. She remembers taking classes with Sylvia Reynoso Gala and Chocolate Lovers in Cubao to learn more about baking and pastry.
When she gave birth to their son 27 years ago and had time off, so she had more time to cook. She continued to do so even in their new life in America, cooking for family and friends, and sometimes bringing her baked goods to church.
The hobby turned into a passion, something she did on the side while working full time in a business. They began to frequent fairs and markets and presented his French macaroons.
At that time, the couple’s son was already a student at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, and one day the couple walked past a place that seemed perfect for a small bakery. They took a big leap.
It was five years ago.
Today, despite the little hiccup brought by the pandemic, Baking Mama is doing well. They are slowly regaining the steady stream of customers similar to what they had before the pandemic.
Dominic and Tina even have a second location that they use for private parties and small workshops for moms and their kids who want to learn the basics of baking.
Not bad for a bakery they initially thought was all about French macaroons. Then people were asking if they had cupcakes and cookies too. Tina listened to what customers wanted and her little bakery evolved.
Among the bakery’s bestsellers are chocolate chip cookies, French macaroons, cakes and candies. They found out that Yelp was declaring their classic chocolate chip cookies the best in the state through a church mate who told them the good news.
Asked the secret why their classic chocolate chip is New Jersey’s favorite, Tina replied that there were no secrets.
“Just the quality of the ingredients, that’s all,” she said, adding that almost all cookies have the same basic recipes. “It’s just how you incorporate different types of chocolate, different types of cocoa powder. And quality is really important.
Having their own bakery allowed Tina to showcase a bit of her Filipino culture and she did just that by showcasing her ube cookies, flan leche and flan ube leche. Occasionally they do other Filipino specialties like cassava cake and brazo de mercedes.
Last week, Tina introduced her version of silvanas, a delicious treat made with a cashew meringue wafer filled with buttercream. She said it was one of her favorite treats from her childhood in the Philippines.
Over the past six years, the Rivera couple have learned several lessons as they navigate the world of small business.
“Kung to like mo yung ginagawa mo, everything will follow, magging madali lahat. Although being an entrepreneur, the hirap hirap“, she shared. “Having a retail store takes a lot of patience.
She added that she also learned to be nice to everyone, even if some of them are not nice to you and even people who say they are mean because they sell their macarons to $2.50 each.
Dominic echoed what Tina said, recalling an elderly neighborhood man who spoke to her outside the bakery a few weeks after opening.
“He said to me, ‘Just be nice to people’ and I keep coming back to that. Yun lang naman talaga huh, just be nice to people,” he said.