A child’s birthday celebration is a precious, annual milestone for kids and parents alike, and the right cake is essential to make it a success. But for Miami resident and mother of five Mariana Cortez, it wasn’t as simple as popping by her local bakery. “My son had an allergy to dairy and gluten since birth,” she explains.
“When I started searching for places to make the cake for him, nobody knew what I was talking about.”
So Mariana did what any responsible parent would do — she started a vegan bakery out of her kitchen called Bunnie Cakes. “I don’t know how I came up with that name.” she laughs, “but I thought it sounded cute.”
Not that she wasn’t busy or anything. Mariana had a full-time job outside of the house as well as the full-time job of parenting, so she had to bake at night, often until 2:00 in the morning, adapting her grandmother’s recipes into vegan and gluten-free varieties.
Then it was hustle, hustle, hustle: “During my lunch hour, I would go to restaurants with samples of my mini cupcakes and I found a couple of restaurants that were interested.”
Now it was time to go legit, so she went to GoDaddy and found the perfect domain. “Luckily www.bunniecakes.com was available. I created my own website on my laptop and took a couple of pictures of the cupcakes I was baking.”
Delicious flavors like red velvet, very vanilla, and triple chocolate immediately got Miami taking to Bunnie Cakes like sprinkles to icing. Within a few months Mariana’s side hustle blossomed into a thriving business, supplying over ten restaurants each week with her creations, but there was a limit to what she could do on her own:
“The same day that I delivered Amelie, my third child, I baked and decorated more than 200 cupcakes with my mom!”
She staffed up, secured financial support from her family, and built out a bakery and retail space. After opening in early 2013, Mariana won a place as a contestant on Cupcake Wars, placing second and providing tremendous visibility for the business that has paid off big.
When they moved into a bigger facility in 2017 — with a lovely decorative spirit that captures the joy and fun of Bunnie Cakes — Mariana started offering activities like cupcake decorating workshops, as well as space for folks to throw birthday parties for their kids.
Nowadays you can find Bunnie Cakes in Whole Foods Markets across Miami-Dade county, at the Miami Vegan and Gluten-Free Market, and even at Starbucks — the first time the coffee mega-chain has sold vegan and gluten-free baked goods.
In addition, Bunnie Cakes has snagged a number of awards, including Best Vegan Bakery in Miami, Best Cupcake in Miami, #2 Best Bakery in Miami in TripAdvisor for three years in a row. Plus they’re slated to open a new store by the end of the year to complement their flagship Wynwood location.
With all this success, keeping a sense of perspective is essential for Mariana, and she looks to those who were the reason she started Bunnie Cakes in the first place: “What inspires me the most and gives me energy to continue are my kids. I see my business as a part of who we are, and we’re a big family working for the same goal. That makes me happy.”