With its obvious Cuban influences — the combination of guava and cream cheese, or even mango and cream cheese — Mindy’s Bakery in Sylva is clearly not your typical mountain bakery.
But that’s not all that sets this small bakery apart: the five family members directly involved have graduated from or are currently enrolled at Western Carolina University. This family, who lives in Waynesville, is literally working its way through school one pastry at a time.
Raul and Mindy Guillama are the patriarch and matriarch of this family. They have three sons, Raul, Andre and Sebastian, who jumpstarted the family’s WCU train.
Andre and Sebastian have both graduated from WCU with degrees in construction management and finance, respectively. Young Raul is getting a degree in marketing, his father is getting an accounting degree and his mother is getting one in psychology.
“The three of us were going, and they said ‘we have a lot of free time so we might as well go to school, too,’” young Raul said.
“And accounting is something you can use in any business,” his father added. “I can do my own accounting and taxes.”
Seventy-year-old Raul is an engineer by training.
“I’m doing my share of contributing to the social security working force,” Raul said, only partly in jest.
Mindy, 50, the mother, explained that both she and her husband were born in Cuba. She came to America on the first Freedom Flight from Cuba to Miami that brought exiles to this country. Her husband was already in America as a young student when Fidel Castro took over. His family joined him in the U.S. in flight from the ensuing oppression.
“He has a brother-in-law whose father was killed in his arms,” Mindy said. “We are a family that came to this country because we had to — it was either communism or freedom.”
That said, the family loves America and what it has given them in return, Mindy said. The Guillama family ended up in Western North Carolina about eight years ago following years of vacationing in this region.
These days, they live together, work together and go to school together.
Husband and wife are taking a psychology class together. Raul the older and Raul the younger are in calculus together. They both said that each is doing equally well, and they choose to sit side by side in the class.
Baking is in the family blood. Their daughter, Mindy, who lives in New York, is also a baker and worked with them in the past.
Mindy’s Bakery specializes in wedding and special occasion cakes, as well as tropical desserts such as flan, coconut cakes, and the Cuban “pastelito” pastries.
“I got the éclairs and took them to work one day and everybody just loved them,” said customer Diane Winstead who was at the bakery one morning this week picking up another order of éclairs for an office party. “It just all looks so fresh.”