Maria Luisa Benavides was born with a sweet tooth, but she never imagined creating a dessert business of her own. Now a wife and mother of two, the Peruvian native runs a successful catering company in Key Biscayne. Benavides is the mastermind behind Piononos and its strawberry pavlova cake. From the second floor of Galleria Mall (328 Crandon Blvd.), she offers handcrafted desserts tied with big bows and creates sweet treats to give her clients a taste of home.
Benavides moved to the United States from Peru more than 20 years ago and enrolled in the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale culinary school in 2001. There, she was exposed to the nuances of fine dining and discovered her calling was making desserts. Though she cringes at the idea of frying foods or chopping onions, she explains the joy that comes from being a pastry chef. For her, it has become an outlet for creativity that has allowed her to remain close to the people she loves.
"I really started making desserts for other people when I became a mom," Benavides says. "I would stay home and bake in my kitchen, with my kids walking around next to me. But when the orders piled up and strawberries started flying around my house, I decided I had to move to a larger space."
After selling desserts from her house for about a dozen years, Benavides moved to her current location in 2012. Here, with her husband’s support, she began to expand her kitchen and fill it with extra hands to help. She personally trained every individual she employed and watched her business grow by word of mouth.
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“The first dessert I made was the pavlova, a traditional meringue dessert named after the ballerina Anna
Today, Piononos offers delicious Peruvian and international desserts that are handmade fresh
“I think many of my international clients come to me because they miss the artisanal desserts they ate while they were growing up,” Benavides explains. “Most of my clients are Hispanic for that reason, but I’m glad to see that many people who try my desserts at different parties seem to come back for more.”
Though Piononos has gradually been expanding, Benavides is not looking to rush into any new projects or restaurant endeavors. She is happy with her store as is, especially because it keeps her close to her family and it keeps her eye on what happens in the kitchen. "What I like most about my business is being able to be involved in the creation of my desserts," Benavides she. "I don't want to lose the personal touch that comes with the different things I make, nor do I want to move too far from where my family is. This could all happen if I were to expand immediately or too fast. Little by little, I will grow, but I’m picky and want to make sure my desserts are done right.”
Piononos is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. To place an order, call 786-488-6770 or 305-361-3237.