Carmen Orta baked pastries out of her Killeen home for four years, for special events like weddings and birthdays, before demands for her cooking grew higher than her house kitchen could handle.
That’s when Orta and her husband, Harry Santiago, took a leap of faith and opened a restaurant, Sweets del Encanto Bakery and Cafe, in Killeen.
Eight months after opening, Sweets del Encanto has become a popular destination for fresh coffee, pastries and sandwiches.
“I don’t have a culinary background, I am just a home cook,” Orta said. “I can cook everything from sweets to savory meals.”
Originally from Puerto Rico, Orta and Santiago are filling a niche they say was lacking in the Killeen area.
“The city has a lot of good Spanish restaurants that remind us of home, but everybody overlooked pastries and mom-and-pop bakeries that you can usually find in any corner of Puerto Rico or any Spanish or Latin community,” Santiago said.
“We researched (and found) that 23 percent of the population was Hispanic, so we knew there was a market for it.”
At Sweets del Encanto, customers receive personalized service, much like the coffee shops in Santiago’s homeland.
“Unlike most name-brand coffee shops where you go in and get a latte, pay and leave, here the customers become part of the family,” he said. “Coffee shops in the Caribbean are places to socialize and meet somebody.”
The cafe’s sandwich menu and coffee selections change daily, as Orta accommodates customer requests. But signature favorites, like ice creams, passion fruit white chocolate cheesecake and some of the pastries, are typically available every day.
“The quesito pastry is the pastry of the shop,” Orta said. “It’s a puff pastry filled with cream cheese and honey on top.”
Orta takes traditional Puerto Rican dishes and adds her own personal flair, like with the special house sauce she created for the triple meat sandwich.
“It’s from back home, but I put some things that other people don’t put in it,” she said. “It’s a mayonnaise base with garlic, onions, salt, pepper and that extra kick (a secret ingredient).”
The cafe gets 65 percent of its food products from local farmers and grocers and sells fresh bagels from Bite the Bagel in Harker Heights, Orta said.
Customers say they enjoy the café’s food and convenience.
“I come here at least twice a week if I can,” said Mimi Dugan of Killeen. “I love everything, including the coffee, and I come here to socialize and have a good time.”
Tianyi Xin, a soldier who works at West Fort Hood, said the cafe is “really cozy” and likes the location.
“They’ve tailored their hours to cater to soldiers, so we can come here on our time off,” she said. “I appreciate that and will definitely be back.”