When former fashion producer Paula Barbosa quit her job in Rio de Janiero to move to New York City seven years ago, she didn’t know what career path she would pursue. Determined to gain skills in a new city, she signed up for a business class, and for a class project, she created a model for a company selling brigadeiros, her favorite childhood sweet. “[In Brazil] we all grew up making and eating them,” she reminisced. “It’s a very special and celebratory sweet.”
The teacher of the class insisted that Barbosa turn her idea into reality, and with the encouragement of friends and peers she started My Sweet in 2011. She now runs the small company alongside over 80 artists, designers, fabricators, media firms, video production groups and craft food businesses in Venus Knitting Mills (VKM): a four-story commercial loft building well situated on the border of East Williamsburg and Bushwick.
Barbosa, who is as tall and lithe as a ballet dancer, “failed, tried again, failed and tried again” as she attempted to get her business off the ground, but a lucky break back in 2011 helped propel her company forward. A friend asked Barbosa to bring extra brigadeiros into the work space she was then renting from him in Battery Park. Little did she know her candies were being directly delivered into the hands of famed New York Times food critic Florence Fabricant. An article with several glossy photos of her appeared in the Dining and Wine section, and before she knew it, Barbosa was scrambling to keep up with requests from all over the United States. Soon after she struck up a partnership with Häagen-Dazs, and her brigadeiros were featured in an artisan “tres leches brigadeiro” limited-supply flavor.
Like many Brazilians, Barbosa learned to make brigadeiros from her grandmother and mother. The rich confection has only three required ingredients: cocoa, butter and condensed milk. The sticky mixture is whisked, heated, cooled and scooped into truffle-sized balls. Additional toppings like nuts, sprinkles or coconut can be added for variety.
Barbosa insists that all Brazilians keep their pantries stocked with the essential ingredients so whipping up a batch of the sweets was a regular ritual. Back at home, Barbosa and her family would make brigadeiros with the conventional brands of butter, cocoa and condensed milk that they would keep on hand. At the shop, though, she only uses high-quality ingredients. The result is soft and chewy like a caramel with the denseness of fudge. Milk chocolate is the most traditional flavor, but at My Sweet there are over 16 varieties to choose from including cinnamon pecan, salted caramel and pistachio, Barbosa’s favorite. While she does much of the business through her website, the shop at VKM is a lovely place to try a few brigadeiros, have a cup of coffee and pick up some spreadable brigadeiro that’s meant to be enjoyed straight out of the jar with a spoon.
Barbosa says she was taken with the VKM space once she saw the window and the sunlight seeping in. She also loves the neighborhood, which she describes as industrial and growing all the time. “There are so many hidden treasures in this neighborhood, and I like to think My Sweet is one of them.”
There are currently three ground floor spaces ranging from 500 to 1,000 sqare feet available in VKM that are ideal for retail and production use as well as a limited number of commercial office and production spaces in a similar size range available on the building’s upper floors. If you’re interested in learning more about VKM, contact Ben Waller of ABS Real Estate Partners at 212.400.9515 or [email protected].
Featured photo credit: Marianna Dutra and Bia Castro.