On a sunny afternoon, customers come and go at Santia's bakery at 3381 Washington St. in Jamaica Plain. Noise from the kitchen travels into the front of the store; the silver door that connects the two squeaks. The store gets busy at times; the phone rings unceasingly.
"What is this?" asks a young man in a black suit, pointing to a display of hot patties.
"This is chicken and this is cheese," replies Beatriz Pena, a friendly lady who works in the front of the store.
Santia's, owned by Russelys Pimentel, has been open for seven months now in Jamaica Plain. But it's a spinoff from a bakery that has now been open for decades in Bani, a town about 1,500 miles from Boston and about 40 miles south of the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo.
The new Santia's, located just down from Green Street, is the latest example of the flavor of the Dominican Republic meeting the hustle of American business - and the latest proof of the growing importance of immigrants from Bani, or Banilejos as they call themselves.
Maritza Pimentel is visiting the store for the first time, but she is familiar with the cakes. Her daughter is an event planner and works with Santia's staff in some events. Santia's cakes, Maritza says, are "the best of the world."
"I like the texture!" she exclaims.
"Not too sweet, it has a good balance," interjects Mariel Cruz, another costumer who overheard her comments. "It is delicious," Cruz adds. "The frosting is delicious, not only on top of the cake but by itself." Some people prefer eating just the frosting, which is made of eggs and sugar caramel. It is called merengue or suspiro. "It has a good taste, is unbelievable."
Cruz says that when she travels to Bani, she stops in Santia's Reposteria there - Santia's has that kind of loyalty.
In the early 90's, Santia Bello, opened a store selling breads, cakes and other pastries in downtown Bani. The cakes - often with ornate designs, were made in the family home and brought to the bakery. In recent years, the business has been relocated to a new building next to Santia's home. In the new place, all orders are taken and the cakes are designed, baked and decorated all in the same spot, explains Russellys Pimentel, Santia's grand-daughter and owner of the Jamaica Plain location.
Besides cakes, Santia's offers pastries and salted treats. A red-haired lady asks for several items from the display including two pastelitos (chicken patties) and two kipes - a meat and grain roll related to Middle Eastern kibbeh.
On a recent Sunday, Pimentel was getting ready to close the store. It is after 4 p.m. and it is time to go home. The register is doing the last transactions of the day when a couple walks in. The two are looking for a hot empanada and some pastries. One of the staff takes care of them. There are no empanadas.
"The guy just finished cleaning the fryer," Pimentel interjects.
"Oh, ok, no problem." replies the male costumer.
The store was calm and quiet. Even the display announced the end of a week. Usually the display is full of a variety of deserts and cakes. Now it was not.
Another lady barely made it before the doors locked. She was looking for a cake for her son's fourth birthday.
"You do 3D designs, right? I want one like "Cars," the movie, in the same shape, you know ..."
"We do 3D, but not necessarily Cars. We can do something related to the theme," Pimentel says.
"It will start at $50 per pound."
The lady wearing a blue beanie hat and a black jacket took a business card and left the store.
It's not Pimentel's favorite type of order - she specializes in Dominican cakes and doing certain designs may look adorable but may not taste the same.
Another option some clients opt for is camouflage. The bakery will make an artificial cake and will also make real cake to cut it and share with the event's attendees. Some people choose it because allows to have creative designs for the display and flavorful cakes for eating. Also, it is a matter of money. Camouflage may result be affordable than baking many pounds that could be expensive. The bigger the cake, the higher the price.
The quality of the food is very well-known among people from Bani. While closing the register, Pimentel shared one of the more unusual requests the bakery received: "One day someone called from Florida asking for empanadas. We sent it frozen for overnight delivery, however, I do not recommend it."
Also, she says that constantly she receives messages and phone calls asking if they would deliver to other states out of the region. The company prefers to keep their services local.
The store takes approximately 60 orders per week. Weekends are the busiest time, Pimentel says. Most orders come from social media; the Instagram profile alone has over 6,000 followers. The company also has a Facebook page with more than 4,000 likes.
"Even though the Instagram says NO DM, people still send orders that way," says Pimentel. "We are working really hard to make people place their orders online, by sending us emails." The clients still prefer sending direct messages or calling the shop. "When they call they [clients] don't like talking to my assistant. People prefer speaking with me directly."
Pimentel says that social media helped the business from day one. The word was spread via Facebook and Instagram. People were posting about the cakes and pastries, others found out about It that way and started following the page. The business grew so fast that she had to open the store in a neighborhood highly populated by Dominicans.
Pimentel joggles her professional life with being a new mom. Last year, she not only opened the store in Jamaica Plain but also welcomed her first son. "It is challenging but possible," she said.