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September 17, 2014

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Career change provides icing on the cake for Las Vegas business owner

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Leila Navidi

Nilda Arias, second from left, teaches a class on cupcake decorating in Spanish at her cake decorating and pastry shop Sweet House in Las Vegas on Monday, September 223, 2013. Students from left are Eva Ibarrola, Rocio Quezada and Maria Lourdes Ibarra.

Sweet House

A student prepares a flower made from fondant during a class taught in Spanish on cupcake decorating at Sweet House in Las Vegas on Monday, September 223, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Nilda Arias always has had an eye for detail and a love of the miniature.

She initially chose a career that ignored those talents, but in the end — with a little help from her mom — the right profession found her.

In March, Nilda opened Sweet House Cake and Candy Supplies. It was the culmination of years of training and multiple jobs in the baking and pastry industry. Now she is training others, in two languages, in the art of cake and pastry decorating.

“(Cake decorating) is a way to let my creativity flow. I can’t draw really, and never saw myself as an artist,” Arias said. “People ask me for a sketch of the cake I’ll do, and it’s super rough. But, I’ve always been crafty. I loved scrap-booking and crafts as a kid.”

As a child, Arias would grab her mother’s cosmetics and do intricate nail designs.

“She loved doing nails,” said her mother, Maria Arias. “She would do little flowers, snowmen, all kinds of little designs.”

But growing up, Arias, 38, did not see herself as an artist. When she graduated in 1993 from Valley High School, she embarked on a career in radio.

In 2003, with her daughter still working in radio, Maria Arias opened a chocolate shop, Nilda’s Treats, after working for years in a chocolate store in the Forum Shops. She was venturing out on her own — her former employer offered her equipment from the closing store — and needed all the help she could get. She recruited a reluctant Nilda to help out when she was not working her day job in promotions at a Spanish-language radio station.

“I helped because my mother needed the help, but I didn’t really want to do it. I didn’t think I’d be into it,” she said.

It was the height of the real estate boom, and orders poured in for baskets of chocolates to celebrate sale closings. Nilda volunteered for the Discovery Children’s Museum as a teenager, and the museum started ordering from the chocolate shop for events. When the museum lost its baker who handled cakes for events like children’s birthday parties, they turned to Nilda. The baker Nilda recommended left after a few months but had shown Nilda the basics by then. By 2004, she quit the radio station and was working on chocolates and cakes full time.

In 2006, business mistakes, such as renting more space than was needed, caught up with Nilda and her mother.

“We got orders but we really had no idea what we were doing. We didn’t know how to run a business,” Nilda said.

They closed the shop, and Nilda enrolled in College of Southern Nevada’s baking and pastry arts program.

Nilda had been working in resort services at the Venetian before enrolling in the program and transferred to the Venetian bakery in 2008. After being laid off during the depths of the recession, she later found a spot in the Paris Las Vegas bakery.

Slowly she saved money, and in March, Nilda opened Sweet House on Lake Mead Boulevard near Rainbow Boulevard. She has always held multiple jobs at once, and Nilda left Paris this summer to focus on her shop and her full-time job as cake decorator for Rolling in Dough Bakery/Leopold’s Cakery. Nilda has teamed with her College of Southern Nevada classmate, Jen Ronca of Dolci Deliziosi, who will make the cakes that Nilda decorates.

“We’re a good team because I hate decorating and she doesn’t love baking,” Ronca said. “Nilda is very passionate about her work and super talented. She loves what she does and it shows. She takes pride in making sure everything is just right and the cake ends up looking like the original vision.”

Nilda’s cake themes touch on every sector of popular culture, such as DJ turntables, Hello Kitty, Steve Madden shoes and Angry Birds. She has made a Batman-themed cake for Icing Smiles, a charity for children with terminal illnesses, and a cake with a beheaded groom as the topper with the message “Happy Divorce to Me.”

“I’ve always loved miniatures,” she said. “Itty-bitty purses, little animals, all that stuff. I really like the tiny details.”

Nilda is offering classes in both Spanish and English out of the back of her shop, and she also invites experts in certain areas, such as sugar sculptures, to come to her shop to talk to classes. She typically charges $45 to $50 for a one-hour class, but is currently offering a special price of $35. There are also four-hour workshops for $135.

On a recent Monday, she had three students for a Spanish-language class on using fondant and other sugar-based items to decorate cupcakes. While some of the students see cake-decorating as more of a hobby, one of the students, Rocio Quezada, is learning so she can start a business of her own.

The students said some community organizations offer classes in Spanish, but Nilda is helping to fill a void in the area for professional training in Spanish.

The shop sells supplies for do-it-yourself cake decorators and it plans to put in a kitchen so Ronca can bake at the shop and Nilda’s mother can revive the chocolates that started it all.

“At first I missed the radio business and being involved in music,” Nilda said. “But now, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

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