Sweet success for bakery entrepreneurs in Healdsburg

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Ozzy Jimenez and Christian Sullberg met at a coffee shop in Santa Rosa, just the sort of spot for two creative, hip 20-somethings to find each other.

They had both taken completely different routes to that day in 2010 when they started a conversation that turned into a friendship, a romance and then, most improbably, one of Healdsburg’s most successful young enterprises.

In one of their first conversations, Jimenez asked Sullberg what he wanted to do with his life. The answer surprised him because it turned out to be a dream they shared.

“I told him I wanted to open a hip bakery cafe in Healdsburg where I grew up,” recalls Sullberg. “He told me he wanted to do the same thing. We never thought ‘why try?’ We thought ‘why not try?’ ”

So Jimenez and Sullberg, at the time 22 and 23 respectively, started to make a plan that eventually turned into the Moustache Baked Goods, a specialty cupcake and sweets shop just off Healdsburg’s famed Plaza.

By any account, Jimenez and Sullberg were taking a huge risk even as they pushed their vision forward. Considered too young and too inexperienced, they had scant training in business and only Sullberg had baking skills when they decided to open, in the fall of 2011. The timing could have been better as the county and country were still reeling from recession and a recent cupcake shop trend already seemed to have hit a peak. It addition, it was coming up on late fall and winter, the slowest time of the year for Healdsburg’s retail trade.

Three years later, Moustache is in the black. Just south of its Healdsburg Avenue location and diagonally across the Plaza stands their newly-opened sister shop, Noble Folk, a hip ice cream parlor and pie bar which has been so popular on weekends, they routinely sell out of the $34 pies.

Jimenez and Sullberg have gone from spending hours and hours in the kitchen creating their hand-made, locally-sourced confections and then manning the counter enticing customers to buy them, to overseeing a staff of 22 employees and making plans for the future — including opening a third location in an urban setting such as Oakland or Portland.

It is the kind of daring idea that might scare off most people, but not those two new friends who sat in a Santa Rosa coffee shop four years ago and dreamed big.

For Sullberg, it was always going to be about food. The Healdsburg native, whose late father founded Michael Sullberg wines and whose mother worked as a general manager for restaurants, the industry beckoned from his earliest days.

“I just knew a regular corporate job wasn’t for me,” he said. “I knew whatever I was going to do was going to be something creative.”

It was in high school when Sullberg began seeking out and collecting old cookbooks and cooking textbooks. After graduating, he moved to Los Angeles for a change of scenery. But the experience only lasted a few months.

“It was a cliché I know. The young kid from the sticks moves to the big city,” he said. “I didn’t like it much but I did learn a lot. And I saw all these hip, cool restaurants and exciting concepts that worked and I wondered why we didn’t have those kinds of places in Healdsburg.”

Sullberg returned to Santa Rosa continuing to collect experience working at restaurants, the family winery and, for a time, Healdsburg’s Downtown Bakery and Creamery and Oliver’s in Santa Rosa.

But with every cake he baked and, still barely into his 20s, Sullberg grew more convinced he could survive out on his own. What he needed was a plan, and, though he didn’t know it at the time, a partner.

Jimenez, meanwhile, was trying to figure out his own road. The son of Mexican immigrants, he was only a year old when his parents hired a coyote to smuggle the family into the United States from the tiny town of Ameca in the Mexican state of Jalisco.

Jimenez, his mom and two sisters were in the trunk of the car but they were stopped by Border Patrol and sent to Tijuana.

Undeterred, they eventually made it to Santa Rosa and Jimenez remembers quite a few lean years as his father worked construction jobs and his mom cleaned houses — anything to support Ozzy and his two sisters. It was a valuable lesson for the future entrepreneur watching his parents working hard and taking risks from selling knickknacks at area farmers markets on weekends to his father starting and succeeding with his own carpet cleaning business.

His parents would send a reluctant Jimenez to work the family booth at the market.

“I used to hate doing that,” he said. I’ve realized how hard they worked and how much that taught me. I have such a big appreciation for them now.”

Jimenez continues to marvel at his parents’ incredible humbleness and chuckles at the thought of his mother’s discomfort at being in their spiffy shops.

“She sits on the bench in the plaza and eats the ice cream there,” he says. “She tells me ‘this place is too fancy for me’”

Jimenez also found his way down to Los Angeles and attended UCLA for a year before growing tired of the big city, just as Sullberg did.

“I had trouble fitting in,” said Jimenez. He ended up returning to Santa Rosa and getting his associate’s degree from SRJC.

He had jobs in retail and later at the Farmhouse Inn in Forestville, where he was working as a concierge when he and Sullberg had that fateful meeting at the Flying Goat on 10th Street. They clicked practically from the start, hatching the basic business plan for Moustache from their earliest conversations. And once they settled on the cupcake shop idea, Sullberg took Jimenez into the kitchen and taught him everything he had learned in years working in various bakeries.

It moved forward with fits and starts, but it almost didn’t happen. A week before they were supposed to open Moustache, they ran out of money, had to borrow $20,000 at the last minute from friends and family and say ‘yes’ when the contractor offered to finish the job before getting paid.

They opened on time in September 2011, but it was far from a piece of cake.

“We had people coming in and looking in the counter case and saying, ‘Just cupcakes? That will never work,’ ” said Sullberg, adding that more than a few people mentioned their age as a detriment. “It was disheartening.”

But like that contractor, there were more believers than naysayers, and once they survived the winter, business picked up, helped in part but their targeting of Healdsburg’s wedding industry.

They do well enough now that Jimenez, the little boy who had to ride in the trunk of a car to get to America, now helps his parents with their mortgage. There are plans to expand to an urban location and maybe even to spiff up Moustache. After all , it’s only been three years.

“We try to always be open to new things and new ideas,” said Jimenez, who talked with pride about his employees, including the girl he worked with at Banana Republic in Santa Rosa who designed the company logo and web page.

“We’ve been lucky to surround ourselves with so much talent,” said Sullberg. “It truly is a labor of love.”

You can reach Staff Writer Elizabeth M. Cosin at 521-5276 or email at

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