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Nicole Tobias-Cooks of La Dolce Vita Bakery & Café: A Very Special Recipe for Success

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The influences that form us in our younger years continue to play a major role in the successes of our older years. That is exactly the case for Stockton resident and businesswoman Nicole Tobias-Cooks. As owner of La Dolce Vita Bakery & Café, this ambitious mom of four has been tantalizing the taste buds of the community with her delectable desserts, specialty pastries and savory lunches since 2016. Located on East Weber Avenue, La Dolce Vita has earned a reputation for being a local café and bakery that specializes in house-made baked goods, lunches that are satisfying and healthy, and some of the best coffee and Italian sodas in downtown Stockton.

How It All Began
While growing up in Louisiana, Nicole was always inspired by food and cooking. Her mother, grandmothers and the master bakers she affectionately calls “the church ladies” have all played a major role in her desire to create made-from-scratch feel-good recipes that evoke fond childhood memories.

“I grew up around these amazing women who enjoyed cooking and expressed love through the food they prepared,” Nicole remembered. “My first memory of cooking was at age five and at a very early age I knew how to make bread. My grandmother, Ennis Lee Garner, was an amazing cook and she was my first inspiration. My great-grandmother was also a baker and her mother was a cook as well. They all taught me the language of food.”

Her family’s love of cooking also went far deeper than just pulling together ingredients to make something special. As the owner of a large farm, her Grandma Ennis taught her grandchild the importance of growing vegetables and picking fresh fruit along with hunting and fishing to create wholesome family meals.

“They could take flour and butter and turn it into five or six different kinds of breads,” Nicole recalled. “Food was a way of life for us. This was my upbringing. I grew up around these women who cooked for their families and cooked for their church and did so in the most pure and organic way possible. Those lessons have stayed with me all my life.”

Although the love of cooking and baking under the tutelage of the family matriarchs was near and dear to her heart, Nicole opted to follow a different career path and spent many years in the healthcare industry following college. After moving to Stockton in 2003, she found her career aspirations shifting back to her childhood roots. With a leap of faith and strong support from her family, Nicole made the decision to bring her childhood dream to life by enrolling in San Joaquin Delta Community College’s Culinary Arts program.

“I started my culinary career at the age of 37 and pregnant with my fourth child,” she added with a laugh. “I literally spent the majority of my culinary school experience with my own bun in the oven. I was the student who was always armed with snacks, juice and water! I had a full class schedule and when I graduated in 2015, I not only passed all of my classes, I officially achieved my dream of becoming a professionally trained culinary chef and pastry chef.”

Destination: La Dolce Vita Bakery & Café
As her culinary dream became reality, Nicole threw herself into honing her skills through volunteerism and helping community organizations in the Stockton area. Her first official job as a chef was at Google headquarters, where she remained for two years. Even though the job was an excellent opportunity, she still felt compelled to venture out on her own and offer her unique style, flavors and recipes to her own customers.

“When I was volunteering in Stockton, I met so many wonderful people and saw firsthand how diverse the community is,” she observed. “That drew me to want to open my business here, and Stockton welcomed me with open arms. La Dolce Vita Bakery & Café opened its doors for the first time on October 1, 2016.”

The Italian phrase meaning “a sweet life” was not only a perfect fit for her business; it tied in beautifully with her staple bakery offering, her locally legendary cannolis. Her business has also earned a stellar reputation for its house-made fresh pastries, baked goods, cupcakes with “church Sunday frosting,” salads with homemade dressings, gluten-free and vegan sandwiches with roasted vegetables, homemade ice cream, milkshakes, fresh-brewed gourmet coffees and Italian sodas.

“All of our pastries and baked goods, salads and lunch sandwiches are made fresh daily by the chef and our chocolate specialist,” Nicole shared. “My vision for La Dolce Vita is to always provide that extra made-with-a-special-touch feature that makes my patrons feel they are eating family-style and homegrown delights right from their own grandmother’s kitchen.”

Honoring Her Mentors
Grateful and blessed by her enthusiastic and loyal customer base, Nicole affirmed that her success is a product of not only her passion for food, but also her life mentors. Her mother, grandmothers and church ladies were instrumental in teaching her both a strong work ethic and how wholesome foods should always be the focal point of every meal.

“Hard work and passion are such a critical part of anyone’s recipe for success, and it takes a village to make a business a reality,” she confirmed. “I have been blessed with many supporters along the way, including a host of extended family members. My husband, Juan, is my rock, and our children, Zelon, Zyleen, Juan III and Zakia are the driving force that makes me want to always be the best that I can be. I want my kids to see that hard work does pay off and dreams are achievable.”

What’s in her future? Nicole intends to branch out as a writer and pen a memoir about her childhood. She also plans to expand her catering business in 2018; it’s a portion of her business that has grown exponentially. She also plans to travel abroad to study culinary arts in France and Rome, bringing those new skills back to the community and people she loves.

“When people stop by La Dolce Vita for a red velvet cupcake, a four-chocolate brownie or cannoli, I want them to be able to escape for just a moment, to go back to their childhood when recipes were made with love and care. If I can provide them with that comfort and moment of reminiscing, then my day is complete.” ■