Something Sweet

06/30/2023 09:18 AM By Lisa Anderson
The Chews Letter
Ellie Rodriguez
Ellie Rodriguez
Story by Cynthia McFarland • Photos by Joshua Jacobs

Something Sweet

Puerto Rican Baker Offers a Taste of Home

A craving for the sweet taste of home is literally what launched Ellie Rodriguez’s cottage bakery business. 

One of four siblings, Ellie grew up in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, in a large family where both her mother Gloria and grandmother Josefina (Fina) were constantly cooking.

“I have always loved being in the kitchen. We grew up between my house and my grandmother’s—all the noise, the music, the food,” says Ellie, fondly recalling those hectic days with everyone gathered together and eating.

Since her mother and abuela mostly cooked main dishes and sides, it often fell to Ellie to bake the sweets. Not that she complained!

Move to Ocala

In 2009, after visiting her high school’s Facebook page, Ellie received a message from Miguel Morales, another former student. Although they both grew up in Bayamon and attended the same school, they didn’t meet then.

“He sent me a message and we started talking and realized how funny it was that we’d never met,” says Ellie. “One thing led to another, and we met in person in August 2009.”

At that time, Miguel and his daughter Riley were already living in Ocala. It wasn’t long before Ellie paid a visit.

“We were traveling back and forth from Puerto Rico to Ocala, and by January 2010, I’d moved here. Seeing the way he treated his daughter was it for me,” she states.

Miguel and Ellie married and now have a family of three: Riley (19), Elias (12), and Jacob (7).

“One day in 2017, I told my husband, ‘I just want to eat one of those Puerto Rican cakes like back home,’ so I made it. He’s very picky, but he liked it,” says Ellie, who was craving the almond flavored cake with almond vanilla buttercream icing. “I was just missing the taste of home.”

Toying with the idea of selling the cakes, Ellie posted online and began offering them for $5. From that point on, her business took off, growing into a cottage bakery that specializes in traditional homemade Puerto Rican desserts, baked goods, custom cakes, and cookies.

Ellie never trained formally, but her years in the kitchen and her family’s recipes are the solid foundation of her business, Ellie’s Rico Dulces, LLC. 

In addition to the Puerto Rican Cake that started it all, her specialties include Tres Leches Cake, Besitos de Coco (coconut macaroons), guava pastries, cream cheese pastries, coconut rice pudding, and tembleque (coconut pudding). 

“The tembleque is my mom’s recipe, and the coconut rice pudding was grandmother’s specialty. This is something you’ll find at almost every holiday party in Puerto Rico, starting around November,” says Ellie, noting that these dishes are among her favorites to make. 

“One of my bestsellers around the holidays is coquito, a Puerto Rican eggnog that is milk-based but doesn’t contain egg,” adds Ellie, who makes her coquito in different flavors, including pumpkin spice and chocolate.

“We cook a lot with coconut in Puerto Rico, and guava is something people grow in their backyards,” she notes.

Sadly, her grandmother passed away right after Hurricane Maria. “It’s still hard to this day,” says Ellie. “She holds a special place in my heart, and it’s always very special when I’m making her coconut rice pudding.”

Ellie can be found every other Saturday selling her sweet treats at Ocala Downtown Market. In addition to custom orders, she also sets up and sells at local events, like Habitat Ocala Strawberry Festival, Light Up Ocala, McIntosh Fall Festival, and Jeeptoberfest.

A Big Move

“There are a lot of bakers, but everybody brings something different to the table. What I bring are family and memories,” says Ellie, adding that she loves it when a customer starts eating one of her creations and tells her it takes them back home. 

“When you eat it, you think about being at your grandma’s house and that’s what I like to offer to my customers,” she says.

With plenty of repeat customers, Ellie finds these regular clientele a very rewarding part of her baking business, especially when they introduce others to her sweet creations. 

Since 2018, Ellie has worked in the Marion County Public School system, first as an ESOL Para, and then last year, becoming a Health Clinic Assistant. Her baking, school job, and being a mom keep her happily busy. She hopes to eventually have a store front and bake full time.

Of course, Ellie bakes regularly for her family—not just for customers. Understandably, this makes her kitchen a favorite hangout for her teenage sons and their friends.

And when it comes to hosting gatherings at their home or going to dinner at friends’ houses, people always know what Ellie is going to bring—something sweet!
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Lisa Anderson