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Sandra Beltran brings cookie decorating, wine pairing to St. Jorge Winery

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Posted: Monday, September 18, 2017 4:30 pm

Sandra Beltran, a world-traveling cookie connoisseur known as “Sweetie,” didn’t even know about cookie art five years ago.

In October 2012, Beltran had her first encounter with “royal” cookies.

“I walked into a local bakery and there were these Sesame Street cookies with royal icing,” she said. “I thought, ‘How do they make this so smooth and dip it so the icing doesn’t fall off the sides?’”

With a keen eye for detail and a new-found interest, it was “cookie at first sight” for Beltran.

Five years later, the world-renowned cookie artist will be teaching how to decorate cookies — accompanied by wine pairing — at Lodi’s St. Jorge Winery, hosted by Bordeaux Inn Lodi.

Beltran fell into her love for cookie art with a combination of passion, pleasure and support from her family. Her hobby transitioned into a full-time career after two years.

She now travels globally, having visited Japan, Canada, England, Mexico, Australia and Indonesia, to name just a few destinations.

Beltran was the only woman in her home in Florida, as a wife and mother of three boys, now ages 23, 18 and 13.

“I was always finding something to keep me busy with all my boys into things like video games ...” she said. “I was also the ‘hostess with the mostest.’ Whenever we would have parties or kids’ birthdays, I would spend money on elaborate cakes and little hors d’oeuvres.”

When Beltran discovered cookie art, it became her “nice little escape,” as she put it. She started watching YouTube videos and making cookies for family and friends, who saw her natural talent and helped to spread the word.

“It just took off,” she said. “I would be invited to parties ... I was in a six-figure salary (as an office manager) so it was not on my mind to quit my full-time career ... but people who were not family or friends started contacting me, saying, ‘You need to open a Facebook page’ — and I didn’t even know what Instagram was!”

In January 2013, a few months after her first cookie encounter, Beltran opened her business You Can Call Me Sweetie and started her own Facebook page.

Soon, Beltran started getting orders from all over the world, from Scotland or Dubai.

“What really catapulted my career is when I was invited to a ‘50 Shades of Gray’ party,” she said. “As a joke, I posted pictures of the cookie on ‘50 Shades Obsessed’ page and they loved the cookies so much they shared it on their page! That’s how I got national recognition.”

By June 2013, she was on Instagram.

“I would do my orders, post on Instagram. Next thing I knew Instagram blew up very fast ... I went from 400 followers to 10,000 followers in a month span!” Beltran said.

Soon, Beltran — then 38 — was juggling her full-time job with being a wife and mother.

“It was going great ... but I was not sleeping. I would come home and my children would have dirty clothes and cereal instead of a home-cooked meal because (the business) kept on growing and growing,” she said.

So she began to think about taking the plunge and switching careers.

“Just before my 40th birthday, I sat down with my husband and quit my job of over 20 years to become a full-time ‘cookier,’” she said.

People in her hometown started asking Beltran to teach cookie classes. That’s how she discovered that teaching could really boost the income of her business.

After establishing herself locally, Beltran started receiving requests to teach from around the world. But a fear of flying stopped her, even though she knew that her supportive husband and family could take care of things at home, she said.

She decided to face her fear.

“If I want to be serious about this, I need to put my big girl pants on and grab this by the horns,” she remembered thinking.

In November 2015, she took her very first Sweetie Nation Tour across the U.S. Every month was spent in a different city, and her first stop was in San Francisco.

Beltran shed a tear when she made it through the 5-hour flight to the West Coast. At the time, it was the longest flight she’d ever taken.

“It was a big deal to me and I felt accomplished doing that,” she said.

San Francisco sold out, and she headed to New Jersey. Now, she travels all over to teach the art of cookie decoration.

“I feel like I am going to be the Cher of the cookie world,” Beltran joked. “I keep saying I am not going to do another tour, and they pull me back in.”

In January of this year, Beltran returned to California to teach another class, this time in Los Angeles. That’s where she met Rebecca Forrest, a student in her cookie class and owner of Bordeaux Inn Lodi.

“I wanted to go back to the Bay Area or at least California, but I did not want to go back with the same host,” Beltran said.

She wanted to spread to new areas, not return to the same venues over and over.

“And that is when Rebecca approached me and asked ‘Have you heard of Lodi? It is kind of like Napa, it’s wine country ... I am going to open a bed and breakfast, so why don’t you give it a try?’” Beltran said.

Forrest is close with St. Jorge Winery owners Jenise and Vern Vierra, which is how she came up with the idea to host it at the larger venue.

Beltran will be stopping at the winery in October during her Sweetie World Tour.

“I am really excited to come to Lodi and experience all it has to offer,” Beltran said.

Making friends wherever she goes allows Beltran to give back to small businesses, like St. Jorge Winery and Bordeaux Inn Lodi. You Can Call Me Sweetie or Sweetie Academy rarely stays in chain hotels — Beltran would rather visit local spots.

Although Beltran likes to support local businesses, she is recognized by fans from all over the world. She has over 250,000 followers from Japan to England and Australia.

“It is all because of the cookie love!” Beltran said. “I would not be doing this without the love of my fans.”

Sweetie’s followers can follow her around the world through her hashtag #whereintheworldisthebun — she’s known for wearing her hair in a bun. Beltran takes selfies at iconic places in each city accompanied by her hashtag.

“I definitely have to go to the arch in Downtown Lodi and take a selfie there,” she said.

Another way she promotes local culture is by creating little avatars for different cities she visits to use on her social media accounts. When she visited San Francisco, it was the Golden Gate Bridge; in New York, it was taxis.

“My amazing graphic designer created a Lodi avatar with wine, grapes, me and the arch from Downtown Lodi,” she said.

Read more about Sandra Beltran and get more recipes in the October issue of our monthly magazine, Life and Leisure! Copies can be picked up at the Lodi News-Sentinel's front office and in various locations around Downtown Lodi beginning Oct. 1. For more information, call 209-369-2761.

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