The ‘Cake Boss’ of Milwaukee: How a Latina Mom Became a World-Class Fondant Sculptor and Entrepreneur
Five years ago, Natalia Roman of Wisconsin discovered that her artistic talent could transition into world-class baking skills. With the encouragement of her friends and family, she got the push she needed to start her own business and become known as the "Cake Boss of Milwaukee."
Roman, who is of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent, is also the mother of four children (a daughter, 11, and three sons ages 8, 7 and 5). "I am really self-taught, that's all I can say, I guess my baking skills come with being a mom," Roman told Latin Post.
As the founder of Crumby Art by Haute Tart (Custom Sugar Art), Roman became a culinary sculptor of edible art. She started her own online sugar shop where she creates fondant cake toppers, as well as baking and decorating cakes, cupcakes and cookies for children's birthday parties, weddings and baby showers.
She's a mom on a mission, often with her kids in tow, making local deliveries and teaching them the importance of hard work and dedication. "It's funny that the littlest people in your life can be your biggest supporters," she said.
With the help of social media (especially Facebook) and Etsy, Roman's world-class confectioner creations have drawn a major international following in the U.K., Australia, Canada and the U.S.
"Only 10 percent of my fondant work is local, everything is out of state, I get a lot of New York, California and Texas... a lot of the big cities," she said.
Roman rents a kitchen space for local orders, but she says that 95 percent of her business is online. She hopes to open her own shop someday in Milwaukee's Third Ward, a more popular, trendy area. In the near future, Roman plans on creating a YouTube channel to showcase her fun tutorials. She's also visiting local bakeries and learning the newest trends in everything cake, she says.
Looking at the Latin beauty, one might not assume that she's a self-proclaimed "nerd" with a love of pop art, comic books, sci-fi and superheroes. But looking at her creations, which include characters and themes from the British sci-fi program "Dr. Who" to "Star Wars," as well as adorable owls and sarfari animals, her passion for art is evident.
According to Roman, one of the biggest themes recently is "gender-reveal" parties, where parents reveal the sex of their baby. In Milwaukee, Roman's sugar fondant owls and safari animal toppers have been selling quickly for these type of events. A cake for the gender reveal party includes a pink fondant owl cake topper, and a blue one; the parents then remove one of the toppers to reveal the baby's gender.
"I try to incorporate these different fads and trends into what I do," she added.
She has also seen the emergence of the Quinceañera cake, which used to be more traditional and had several tiers with porcelain figurines, but now they have to be "trendy and cool."
"Basically it's a colorful wedding cake. They're basically living out their wedding at 15," she joked.
Roman, who says her children have inherited some of her quirkiness, recalls her daughter's request for an Elvis-themed birthday party when she turned 10 years old. Instead, Roman turned it into a '50s rock n' roll themed birthday party with a cake that was made into the shape of a huge milkshake.
Her sons, who are huge fans of "Dr. Who," "a time-traveling humanoid alien," requested a birthday party based on an episode when the Doctor goes back in time to visit artist Vincent van Gogh. Roman replicated van Gogh's "Starry Night" for the cake.
The oldest of six children, Roman comes from a long line of talented artists. Roman's father is an animator and children's book author, and her siblings specialize in photography and makeup artistry.
Hailing from the south side of Milwaukee, known for its large Mexican-American population, Roman's Latin roots run deep. Her grandfather was "one of the pioneers who brought Tejano music to Milwaukee," and perfomed in the popular Latin Express Band.
During her youth, Roman was a member of the Ballet Folklórico and attended Bruce Guadalupe Community School, where she received several grants to continue on to receive a stellar education at Dominican High School in White Fish Bay, Wisconsin.
"They were so good to helping us and pushing us to our dreams, to be bigger and ever-better the community," she said.
Roman is proud of her humble beginnings, which she says has grounded her as a person.
"Our culture here is very rich [on the south side]; that's one thing I could say about Milwaukee, it could be a little tough at times because you see certain people who feel held back ... I think all the time that I need to come here more often to show my kids, this is where it is, this is our culture.
"Sometimes it's not the best neighborhoods, or anything, but it molded me into everything I appreciate. I am so strong in my heritage still, and I am so grateful for that, because otherwise I don't know where else I would have learned that."
"I've known Natalia since I was 15 and our families basically grew up on the South Side of Milwaukee together," said Manny Toro, Senior Manager, Marketing for ABC News and Entrepreneur.
"I think its important for inspiring individuals like Natalia to be showcased, not only as a successful entrepreneur, but as a testament of what the youth in Milwaukee can accomplish on a global scale. Her talent, drive, and motivation will take her to a level we can all be proud of as 'South Siders.' Cant wait to see where she takes Crumby Art in these next few years! "
Roman's advice for aspiring Latina business women?
"Don't feel trapped by your surroundings," she said. "With four children, it's easy to feel like you can't do it all. ... It took just a leap of faith to get out there. I am very faithful and I have to say that God has opened a lot of doors for me."
"You have to spend money to make money. ... You have to put blood, sweat and tears into it and you have to love it."
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