Leading in Central MA: Mary Beth Benison, Living Her Dream
Monday, November 04, 2013
A Conversation with Mary Beth Benison
SW: How did your career begin and where?
MBB: I started baking when I was in high school. I became the family baker. After college my career path took me away from baking as I traveled extensively. I worked in Software Communications in Professional Services for over 20 years. I really enjoyed working for my company but it was not my passion.The holidays became my opportunity to create fun and interesting desserts and cookies and each year I would expand my menu. After my first diagnosis I started to evaluate what was it that truly made me happy and that started me down the path of pursuing pastry,
SW: What led you to your current career path?
MBB: I am a survivor of a rare type of brain tumor and breast cancer. Life threatening illnesses make you realize that you need to live your life doing what you feel you were born to do. The surgery for my skull based brain tumor in 1999 was especially life altering. I had to relearn how to eat. I required speech therapy to rebuild what I could of a damaged facial nerve and required several other procedures to get me back on track. It took several years to recover and during that time I started to assess what really mattered. I was looking for my passion and rekindled it when I took my first class in pastry in Marblehead. Shortly after becoming certified in pastry I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It took a year for me to recover but that did not deter me. I started catering part time and participating at events to get my product out there and never looked back!
SW: What made you decide on cupcakes?
MBB: What began as a one-day pastry class sparked the passion that led to a whole new career. I took the class just to spend time with my mother and sisters. Who knew that a single class, taught by Master Pastry Chef Delphin Gomes, would completely change my life. Despite working a 9-5 day, I undertook a two-hour roundtrip commute to began an intensive course of study with Gomes, leading to my certification as a pastry chef. Designer cupcakes are not a new concept – it’s been a popular retail business in various parts of the country but wasn’t well developed in the Central Massachusetts and Metrowest market. I decided to step forward and fill the niche. At CocoBeni, our cupcakes, frostings and fillings are made only in small batches using the freshest ingredients with original recipes. The word started getting out and orders began rolling in. Suddenly I was living my dream!
SW: Can you describe a typical day in the life of Mary Beth Benison?
MBB: Since opening CocoBeni Confections became a possibility there has not been a typical day. Each day is an experience in learning what is required in the day to day operations of a small business, what is required for long term success and what is involved in learning about an industry that I did not grow up in but have been working on the perimeter for a decade before jumping in full throttle.
SW: What is the something that few people know about you?
MBB: I have strong Worcester roots. I was born and raised in Worcester (oldest of seven children), and grew up in the Tatnuck Square area, and went to St. Peter-Marian High School and Assumption College.
SW: How do you spend your free time?
MBB: When I have free time I love to spend it with family and friends or if I have quiet time I love to read and practice yoga.
SW: What is your advice for anyone wanting to follow their dreams?
MBB: We get testimonials from customers that say things like, “Lovely store, very friendly staff and some of the best cupcakes I've ever had. They are dangerously divine.” I know I made the right decision to change my life when I hear things like that. My advice would be to find a way to make it happen. I recently heard Diana Nyad interviewed and her quote really resonated with me. If you really want to do something “find a way”. Don’t let fear hold you back, take baby steps, do your research, ask for help. You will be amazed at the number of people that want to support you in terms of guidance, networking and emotional support and will root for your success.
SW: How do you give back to the community?
MBB: Giving back to the community is an important part of our operation. It’s nice to be able to provide a treat, something they wouldn’t otherwise have. The cupcake concept is catching on well for school events, weddings, corporate events, social gatherings and holidays. We have provided cupcakes for local fund raisers including the Shrewsbury Garden Party, Fund Raisers for the Grafton School system, St. Mary’s Winter Ball and local fund raisers for people in the community that have been stricken with life threatening illnesses. Most recently we donated cupcakes and cake pops to Young Hero’s Recognition Night at the Boys and Girls Club and we provide birthday cakes monthly to Birthday Wishes Organization. They bring birthday parties to homeless children, We have also engaged our facebook followers and asked them to share stories of deserving people who needed some cheering up. We selected the four most compelling stories and delivered a dozen cupcakes to each home. I am looking forward to continuing to serve sweet treats to the community for years to come.
SW: Any special plans for your future?
MBB: I am excited about the future and the different possibilities for CocoBeni. I am planning to expand our business to begin online orders and at some point I would love to open a second location. I’m working on it and I will find a way!
Susan Wagner is the president of Susan Wagner PR . In this challenging economy, she has begun a new division to offer affordable start-up packages to new and emerging small businesses and non-profit organizations that include professional writing services, websites, collateral, marketing, social media, grassroots outreach and PR campaigns.
Related Slideshow: Foodie Getaways in Massachusetts
Food lovers will love these destinations statewide for indulging your palate.
Vienna Historic Inn + Restaurant, Southbridge, MA
A feast for all your appetites. This historic inn is filled with old world charm, antiques, chandeliers & steins. Each room is adorned with soft music, ambience and uniqueness. You will be delighted with hard-to-find Austrian, German, Swiss, French as well local meats, seafood and vegan options. An extensive gluten-free menu available. The beer garden will be open through the end of the October.
Jewish Food Tour
Ahla Food Tours, Brookline, MA
Explore Jewish cuisine on this eye-opening 3-hour walking tour of historical Brookline and experience what TV Diner called a "fabulous Boston neighborhood tour!" and Jewish Advocate raved is "whetting the appetites of Jewish and non-Jewish diners alike". You'll taste authentic Jewish food - matzo ball soup, latkes, falafel, kosher wines, noodle kugel ice cream and dozens more. Hear unique anecdotes about the welcoming Brookline purveyors and savor the rich history of Jewish Brookline.
Blue Hills Brewery, Canton, MA
We're lucky in Massachusetts to have many microbreweries, large and small, for touring and tasting. But Blue Hills Brewery has combined its makes great tasting beers with a real educational imperative--an internship. A dream come true for beer lovers, candidates can vie for working with Blue Hills' Master Brewer Andris Veidis in a true apprenticeship. Not for the casual brewer. To learn more, check online, here. http://bluehillsbrewery.com/internship.php
Sweet Dessert Bar, Worcester, MA
A dessert lover's destination, Sweet was recently in the news for having challenged New York chef Dominique Ansel as laying claim to the invention of the cronut. Whether you're team Worcester or team NYC, enjoy Sweet's lounge chairs or sit at the bar, have a drink and watch as the chefs prepare a one of a kind dish for you. Not your average piece of cake, Sweet's appetizers and desserts are inspired by the freshest local ingredients, seasonal fruits, and artisan chocolates.
Old + New Dining
The Farm Table, Bernardston, MA
In the lush Pioneer Valley between Deerfield and the Vermont border, this remarkably restored 1800 farmhouse features cutting-edge green energy and the freshest local and regional foods seasonally available. Combine a delicious sojourn with holiday shopping at Kringle Candle and Kringle Christmas Barn.
Fried Clam Pilgrimage
Woodman's of Essex, Essex, MA
Keep summer alive year-round by making a pilgrimage to this institution that is counting down to its 100-year anniversary. Go for the fried clams, because that's what was invented here on July 3rd, 1916. Lawrence "Chubby" Woodman, at the humorous suggestion of a friend, fried up a few clams at his roadside stand in Essex, Massachusetts and the original fried clams were born.
East Dennis Oyster Farm, Cape Cod, MA
If you think oysters are a summer pleasure, you're right but you're wrong. Late October and November yield some of the best oysters, so consider bundling up and heading to the Cape for a tour of John and Stephanie Lowell's farm on the tidal flats off Quivett Neck. To make an appointment for a tour, go here.
Hit the Trail
Massachusetts Wine + Cheese Trail
A wine and cheese trail in Massachusetts? That’s right, the Bay State features 40 licensed wineries, producing wine from a collection of locally grown fruits – grapes, apples, cranberries, peaches, and blueberries – across, roughly, a total of 2,200-acres of wine farm land, where 439 acres are devoted exclusively to wine production. You can download a map and pick up the trail at any place, exploring small and pristine providers.
Wine in the City
City Wine Tours, Cambridge, MA
Want an urban oenophelia adventure? City Wine Tours is the perfect gateway to enjoying Boston's vibrant wine culture and best restaurants. Sip, savor, and explore as we take you on a walking tour through Boston's most historic neighborhoods, with stops at award-winning restaurants, luxury hotels and gourmet wine shops. Cheers.
A New Kind of Crawl
Dishcrawl Pioneer Valley, Springfield, MA
You love a pub crawl? How about a restaurant crawl? The foodies at Dishcrawl aim to provide you with Pioneer Valley's premier culinary social experience by bringing together neighborhood restaurants, local chefs, regional food producers and fellow food enthusiasts. Join for a one-of-a-kind gastronomic adventure! Check out next week's All Hallows Eve crawl in Amherst, MA.
- Leading In Central MA: Ctr. for Nonviolent Solutions’ Christa Drew
- Women Leading in Central MA: Cancer Activist Audrey Kurlan-Marcy
- Leading In Central MA: Hospitality Entrepreneur Michael Covino
- Women Leading in Central MA: South High Principal Maureen Binienda
- Leading in Central MA: Activist/Philanthropist Mary DeFeudis
- Women Leading in Central MA: Healthcare Leader Janice B. Yost
- Leading in Central MA: Artist + Executive Helen Sheldon Beaumont
- Leading in Central MA: Audio Journal’s Vince Lombardi
- Leading in Central MA: Bay State Savings’ Diane Giampa
- Leading in Central MA: Girls, Inc. CEO Victoria Waterman
- Leading in Central Ma: Worcester Center for Crafts’ Honee A. Hess