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Leading in Central MA:  Mary Beth Benison, Living Her Dream

Monday, November 04, 2013

 

It is not everyone who can take a life threatening illness and make it sweet but Mary Beth Benison did exactly that. For Northborough’s Benison, smiles from happy customers are just the icing on the cake. Surviving a rare type of breast cancer and brain cancer led to CocoBeni Confections, located at 247A West Main Street in Northborough, Massachusetts. CocoBeni’s signature cupcakes are becoming the talk of Central Massachusetts and this former corporate professional is living her dream!

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.

If you have any suggestions for an interesting leader, please email [email protected] .

 

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