To Tammy Montesinos, baking a cake is more than just mixing together flour, eggs and sugar.
"A cake is a memory you're building for people," said Montesinos, who is bringing those memories, and her sweet recipes, to her newly opened shop Sweet T's Bakery & Cake Studio in downtown Arlington Heights.
Montesinos grew up in Mount Prospect and started working as a shop girl at Central Continental Bakery when she was 15. She fell in love with baking and came back to the store after graduating from Kendall College's culinary program.
She met her husband, Abel, also a baker at Continental, and they spent the next two decades baking and decorating cakes, winning regional and national contests.
But Abel and Tammy had dreams of their own shop. She kept a "dream" book for 15 years, filled with recipes she would use and pictures of how she wanted her shop to look.
Life, and raising three kids, put the dream on the shelf, but now at 41, Tammy said she is beyond proud to bring her dreams to reality.
In 2013 they applied to be on "Next Great Baker," a TLC reality show. The network filmed a video with the couple and let it drop they were among the top 40 contestants. But ultimately, Tammy and Abel didn't make the cut.
"I could taste it. I thought we had it," Tammy said. "But out of the ashes of that disappointment we decided that we don't need a reality TV show to be successful."
With help on the business side from her brother and sister-in-law, on May 1 Tammy got a lease for 21 S. Dunton in Arlington Heights. Over six weeks she and her family painted, knocked out walls and remodeled, transforming the former Biggsby's Coffee into a bakery.
"I never want to see a paintbrush again," she said.
The bakery had a soft opening last week, and will have its grand opening at 3 p.m. Saturday featuring with a cake decorating contest with Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes.
Montesinos said it was sad to leave Continental after 26 years, several of those as head cake baker.
"I just needed to do this for myself," she said. "They always say, if you don't build your own dream, then you're working to build someone else's."
So far the shop has been a success, Tammy said. She's already making about 10 cakes a day and taking new orders all the time. Aside from everyday and special occasion cakes, the bakery also sells cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, cookies, muffins, cake pops and more.
The store also will have demonstrations and classes for bakers of all levels of experience.
She said she's looking forward to being part of the downtown Arlington Heights community and will be at Frontier Days and the Taste of Arlington Heights later this summer.
Sweet T's is open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Tammy said she gets to the shop around 4 a.m. and often doesn't leave until after 10 p.m.
"The other day I pulled up a few sugar bags and took a little cat nap," she joked. "But it's a happy exhaustion."