As 2008 began, Mariel Black served eight children at her day care and preschool in Elk Grove. When the year ended, there were only two.
Parents lost their jobs, couldn't find work and stayed home with the kids.
As Black baked her family's favorite holiday treat, Food for the Gods, her husband, Derek, voiced an idea that eventually gained traction: selling baked goods.
Black did her homework, then emailed two aunts in the Philippines for recipes.
"They sent me all the recipes that we used to make when I was little," Black said. "That helped add to our product line the family recipes that I tweaked a little bit to Americanize them."
Black's husband put a new information technology degree to use, creating www.sinfultreats.net to sell the creations. Black persuaded restaurants and coffeehouses to carry them, but soon after she negotiated a deal, the business would fail.
She changed up her strategy, taking dessert samples to A Taste of Sacramento. There, she connected with a few caterers, expanded her customer base and won attention from other event organizers.
She focused on catering for benefits, fundraisers and special events. Last year, she created the official pumpkin cookie for Elk Grove's Giant Pumpkin Festival. This year, she is baking 16,000 Polar Express cookies (snickerdoodles) for the California State Railroad Museum.
Black now leases a commercial kitchen at 5650 Whiterock Parkway in Elk Grove, where she also makes sales. She employs four people, two full time.
By the way, Black will send treats to the thousands of U.S. troops recovering from injuries at a military hospital in Germany. At her website, customers can add their orders to her gift. Black will cover packaging and shipping.
Fresh Choice closes
When you call a corporate headquarters and the receptionist suggests you call a U.S. bankruptcy trustee, it's not a good sign.
That's what occurred Tuesday when I tried to reach Sandy Boyd, the owner and chief executive of Fresh Choice. The company, which owned about 30 restaurants at one time, emerged from bankruptcy protection back in 2010, but it looks as though the recovery didn't last.
Reader Barbara Brautigam of Sacramento arrived Saturday evening at the Fresh Choice restaurant on Howe Avenue and found the doors locked.
"We then went across the parking lot for dinner at Mel's Drive-In," Brautigam said. "The staff there told us that when Fresh Choice workers showed up, they were locked out."
One sign at the restaurant said the eatery is temporarily closed, but another from U.S. trustee John Kendall is much less optimistic. It said no reopening is scheduled. Kendall didn't return calls, and no records of a new bankruptcy filing could be found.
Have business with Fresh Choice? Call Kendall at (209) 532-9821 for options.
A grito for Valencia
Steven Valencia burnished the Instituto Mazatlán Bellas Artes into a cultural gem that sparkles as brightly in Santa Rosa, Modesto and other cities as it does at home in Sacramento.
The Mexican folk dance group operated on a budget of $5,000 when Valencia accepted the post of artistic director 14 years ago from the institute's founder and executive director, Yolanda Colosio. He also took on grant writing and booking, increasing the budget to $160,000.
Last year, California's Latino Arts Network gave him the Maestro Award to recognize his leadership.
"Our mission on stage is to re-create what it would be like in a particular region in Guerrero or Jalisco," Valencia said. "When people can identify with the gestures, the little things that happen on stage they feel reconnected."
Why then is Valencia taking his last bow on Dec. 14 at Three Stages at Folsom Lake College?
"I have two classes left to finish my bachelor's (degree in Spanish), and I just haven't had time," the 37-year-old Valencia said.
Although his work as artistic director has consumed much of his personal time, Valencia's income comes chiefly from his work as a youth correctional officer for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He dropped out of college to pursue the job but now finds it difficult to advance without a degree.
Colosio and Valencia are interviewing candidates for the position.