Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Sweet Life

Life takes some interesting twists and turns. When I came to Texas in 1995, it was for a one year volunteer commitment through V.I.S.T.A. and I planned on heading back to MA when my year was up. When I applied to the program, I actually wanted to go to Louisiana. I was 21 and I have always enjoyed a good time. I thought New Orleans was a city that offered ample opportunity to help on a grassroots level but where I could also enjoy myself. However, in the first of many turns, a position with Big Brothers and Sisters came up and it hit close to home, since I was from a single parent household myself. I packed my bags and headed for Dallas of all places- my friends saying things like “Say Hello to Sue Ellen for us” as I prepared to leave.

Now it’s almost 15 years later and here I am. Still in Texas. I waited tables, worked for Arthur Andersen, waited tables, worked for Pottery Barn, had 2 serious boyfriends, met my then-future husband, moved to Houston, worked as a retail manager, office manager and ended my working career as an IT recruiter; had two babies and now I am a stay at home mom (which is surreal to me), filling the spare 3 minutes a day I can find writing a blog about the neighborhood I live in and love. Many twists and turns in the road, but no complaints. My life is pretty good.

Life has taken some similar twists for fellow Heights resident and entrepreneur Jennifer Diaz. Born in Houston, Jennifer moved with her family to Lufkin as a child to be closer to her grandparents. She lived there until she went to Stephen F Austin to study International Business and, after graduation, came back to the Houston area where she settled in Jersey City. Like many, she met a nice guy and got married and was working a good job in the steel industry. The job twisted her road around the first time by sending her (and her husband) to live in Monterey, Mexico, where she was doing inside sales for a steel processing company. Her husband travelled a lot for work anyway and could telecommute when he was home, so they enjoyed being expats and had some “crazy fun” along the way.

Then, twist #2. Jennifer was transferred back to the corporate office in Houston where she was working on the functional side of a system migration. Sounds fun, no? Back in Houston, Jennifer didn’t want to be tied to her car and spending all day commuting. She had already been doing that in Monterey. Her parents grew up around Crosstimbers and I 45, so this part of town seemed to have roots for her. She settled in The Heights and life went on.

Then she got laid off. That, as we all know, is a big twist. This twist made Jennifer want to plan the next turn on her own. She was “burned out” from a decade in the steel industry and wanted a change. She tried all kinds of avenues to make a career switch but it was challenging and the only real callbacks she got were from the industry she was trying to leave. She wasn’t sure where the road was going to take her from there…

Through all the changes in her life, from a child in Lufkin through college, up to travelling internationally for work and relocating back to where she was born, one thing that was always a big part of Jennifer’s life. Baking. In Lufkin, she started baking with her mother and grandmother before the age of 7. Never did her family ever have pre-packaged or store bought desserts. They made everything and made it all from scratch. Holidays meant “the dessert table was bigger than the dinner table.” Gifts for friends and family were Jennifer’s mother’s homemade candy, hand dipped by Jennifer and her sister, Holly.

She took baking with her through all the stages of her life, wowing her Peruvian in-laws with Southern style desserts that couldn’t be more different from the whipped, tropical concoctions they were used to. In Monterey, she would make it “feel a little more like home” by whipping up pecan and pumpkin pies or rum cake.

So, when Jennifer was laid off from her steel job, you would think that “dessert” would have been the 1st thing on her mind. But baking was something she did for the sheer pleasure of it. She focused on volunteering and trying to figure out what the next step was. Event planning? Non-profit? But nothing bit. Finally, her mother-in-law put her foot down and insisted that Jennifer give baking a try as a professional. Her pecan pie was worth it!

Jennifer's traditional Pecan Pie sells for $25.95. She also offers a special holiday gift package for Christmas which is $27.95.

And the idea did appeal to Jennifer, but she didn’t want to do it willy nilly. She wanted control of the twists and wanted to make it real, make it work. She started asking around, seeing what other people who took similar paths with great success did to get there. She met with Anthony from My Fit Foods and talked at length with Teresa, who owns Bocados. How did they get from their kitchens to store fronts? She knew that she had something very important in common with these people: she was “starting from zero, but with a love for the food.”

This summer, her plan went in to action. She got her DBA and Porchswing Desserts was born. Specializing in the Southern style desserts she grew up with, Jennnifer started spreading the word amongst her inner circle. She had a dozen orders in her 1st month. Now she is using word of mouth to build her business. She had a great table of her homemade, hand dipped cream candies at Christine Tremoulet’s studio on White Linen Night, which generated a lot of leads. She is excited about the upcoming holiday season and has started doing monthly specials on some of her more popular items. She hopes the holiday season will bring some parties her way and help her maneuver the next turn in the road--moving to a larger scale kitchen and eventually opening a store front here in her own neighborhood.

Jennifer and her sweets on White Linen Night

Porchswing Dessert's homemade candy called Mrs. Taulbee's, a hand dipped flavored cream candy. Sells for $15.95/lb and comes in awesome flavors like lemon, vanilla, orange, peppermint, and coconut.

While Porchswing Desserts wasn’t even on Jennifer’s radar when she moved to the Heights, she thinks this is going to be the best place in Houston to have the kind of business she wants to develop. She loves how the neighborhood passionately supports small, local businesses and thinks that this is where she is most likely to find people that appreciate food that is fresh, local, organic and still delightfully Southern and traditional.

Gift packaging, great for any event!

This month, she is having a cake special: Buy a cake, get half dozen chocolate chip cookies on her!

And hold on to your hats for this great event:

October 4: Jennifer and sister Holly, a 1st grade teacher, will be holding a Kids’ Halloween Treat Cooking Class!!

  • 2:30 - 4:00 pm at Christine Tremoulet's studio on 1024 Studewood.
  • Due to space, class is limited to 10 children but if there is enough interest, she may be able to offer another class.
  • Children should be 5 – 10 years old and must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
  • $15 per child. To register just email her at

Jennifer has a long road to travel to get where she wants to be, but I agree with her. If there is any neighborhood where she will find support, it’s the Heights. She deserves it- her desserts and chocolates are truly awesome!

And, even after all the turns and detours and finally gaining some control, Jennifer and her husband have one more big twist coming up: she is 4 months pregnant!! So much for having any control over life now! Ha! CONGRATS AGAIN, Jennifer!!


  1. My wife and I met her at the heights expectant mothers group!
    This is a really cool blog. Keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks, Andrew! It is a labor of love, indeed.