BY MICHEAL LAKIND
Just down the block from Safeway in the Crossroads, the tantalizing aroma of cinnamon sugar is carried through the usually-dull parking lot air. A bright pink standout in the array of shops, Sweet Reba’s is one of the shopping center’s newest additions, and an undoubtedly delicious one at that.
A Carmel High alum herself, Reba Wilson is a self-taught baker who started out as a frequent vendor at the Monterey Farmers Market, specializing in custom cakes for about 15 years. In November 2017 she was offered to start a pop-up store in the Crossroads. This temporary style of store has its limitations, and she soon learned the business could use an upgrade.
“We were still just baking from home and bringing it over [to the store],” says Wilson of the store before its renovation. “It was more like a long-term farmers market booth, and it went really well.”
The pop-up store closed the following January so that Wilson and her team could redevelop the store to have a full commercial kitchen. By building the full-scale kitchen, Wilson had the opportunity to expand her menu and receive permits to serve more perishable things like desserts with cream filling or pastry cheeses, such as mascarpone or cream cheese.
For students, Sweet Reba’s is a great new spot to grab breakfast. With office hours every Thursday, students that drive can go over to the bakery at its earlier hours for a quick and inexpensive bite.
“You can get these little cinnamon sugar muffins for fifty cents apiece,” says senior Libby Lambert about Wilson’s delectable bite-size donut muffins. “You can also get a breakfast burrito for only three dollars with eggs, tater tots, bacon and salsa in it.”
On a more widely-known side of her career, Wilson was a contestant on an episode of the culinary competition show “Cake Wars.” This show pits talented bakers against each other in unique, creative challenges. Making it to the final round, Wilson wowed the judges, celebrity chef and head judge Ron Ben-Israel in particular, with her apple pie cake.
“Ron Ben-Israel said my cake was one of the best cakes he’d ever tasted,” Wilson says. “You always look at that show and think ‘it can’t really be that hard.’ It really is.”
A ways down the road of her career, Wilson found a business partner in Mike Abbruzzese. Born and raised in a Brooklyn household with chefs for grandparents, he had a brief encounter with the culinary world before playing professional soccer and getting a degree in business. He became a regular at Wilson’s market booth and took an interest in helping to transform her baking operation.
“We started displaying and cutting her cakes and people were having a visceral reaction to what they were seeing,” Abbruzzese says. “[Baking] is something I never trained for, and once I met Reba it kinda came out.”
Since meeting her through her son as a second grader, Austin Moonan had always been wowed by Wilson’s abilities in the kitchen. He delved into the film world, but after earning a degree in Los Angeles, he decided to switch gears and explore baking by becoming a baking assistant at the store.
“She’s always been making these insane baked goods and they’ve always been amazing,” Moonan says. “She’s been a mother figure to me for a while.”
Wilson, Abbruzzese and Moonan all have a common passion for the culinary arts, and all for similar reasons. What all three of these unlikely friends find joy in is the emotions they conjure with cooking and baking. Their shared experiences show how food really does bring people together.
“The biggest part is people’s reactions,” Abbruzzese observes. “We’re not doing this just to make money. We enjoy being in the kitchen and giving something to the community. It’s kinda fulfilling.”
The shop is located at 206 Crossroads Boulevard. They are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays, and are closed on Sundays.